Friday, December 31, 2021

31 Days Of CCS, #33: Luke Kruger-Howard

Goes #1 is the innovative collection of comics from Luke Kruger-Howard, built on a non-profit model. I did an extensive interview with him on the model at SOLRAD, but I'm going to discuss the actual content of the book here. Howard's a talented draftsman who can work a number of different styles, but he's found something that works well for him with blocky, bulky, and distorted figures. There's an intentional distortion of naturalism at work here that emphasizes the actual quality and shape of the lines and figures. It's a self-conscious technique that pushes the experience of line qua line on the reader, making them experience the figures as both part of the story and as actual drawings. It's a delicate balancing act, but that bit of abstraction away from naturalism ironically allows the cartoonist to imbue his figures with greater emotional energy. Kruger-Howard's line is certainly up to that task.

That sensitivity is crucial for a collection whose theme is "touch." Kruger-Howard explores non-romantic, non-erotic touch through the issue in a variety of ways. The main piece is "Men's Holding Group," which can best be described as the antithesis of the way many many misinterpret "Fight Club," embracing its machismo while ignoring it as a satire of capitalism. In Kruger-Howard's story, we have a story that's every bit as subversive, using non-romantic touch and intimacy between men as a way of attacking the barriers that cultural mores have erected against this kind of closeness. The story follows an organizer of and a new member of this "Men's holding group," whose purpose is to not just ask the question as to why men don't show affection toward each other, but also engage deliberately in ways to change that with hugs and holding hands--again, all in non-romantic ways. Throughout the issue, including an excerpt from a fake zine from the future, that lack of touch is labeled as a sort of emotional starvation that begins with the lack of affection many fathers have with their sons. The story is sweet and funny and awkward, as everyone acknowledges both that the whole thing is weird--but that it's also sad that it is weird. There are segues to hyper-masculine settings--the gym, football locker rooms, even the show "Friends"--and how creating a culture of friendly touch also opens up the door to greater emotional intimacy, improves communication, and creates stronger bonds between friends.

"Dead Dog" is an autobiographical story about the recent death of Kruger-Howard's family dog, Whimbly. One of Kruger-Howard's best assets as a creator is his total willingness to confront tragic and emotionally devastating revelations with gallows humor. In this story, for example, as he's hefting the corpse of his big, beloved dog, he recalls a childhood anecdote where his mom made a hilariously horrifying joke when he was trying to put his childhood dog's body into a car. At the same time, Kruger-Howard gives himself permission to write a parallel narrative where Whimbly is getting all of the food, walks, fresh air, and comfy dog beds that he wants in the afterlife--but he can never quite settle in because his people aren't there. Kruger-Howard ends the story with a look back to when he first met Whimbly as a way of expressing how our affection towards pets and each other creates a narrative that never ends. 

"Let Me Show You Around" is a clever story about therapy and anxiety. A very of Luke invites a therapist named Edith inside his "house," aka, his brain, to help him fix it. Meanwhile, the house very much has its own agenda, even as it constantly worries about falling into the ocean. It's moments like this when Kruger-Howard's work has an absurd, almost detached sense of humor, echoing the sense of fatalism he feels with regard to mental health. Of course, this story has a brightness to it in that the "house" can be repaired and fixed up. The final story, "Goes," recapitulates the book's theme in a sweet way. It's about his son turning one year old and him remembering the various ways he held him at various ages, with the last panel being his son running away. "He still quickly goes." Holding an infant isn't just about intimacy; it's a way of comforting the child, helping them sleep, digest food, and so much else. While a constant need for this sort of touch must be pushed aside as a child become independent, the entire point of this issue is that it shouldn't be entirely abandoned, either. Touch remains nourishing, invigorating, and comforting, and there's no reason why it should ever stop being any of these things. This is a moving and entertaining comic, and it's radical both in terms of how it came to be and of the ideas it espouses. 

No comments:

Post a Comment