Saturday, December 31, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #31: Rust Belt Review 2-4

Sean Knickerbocker has been regularly releasing an interesting anthology that's taken work from open calls, and the results have been uniformly fairly strong. He's also had a few serials running throughout, including one of his own. I reviewed the first issue last year, but there are three more he submitted for this year's CCS call. I'm going to review it in much the same way I used to review batches of issues of the old MOME anthology from Fantagraphics: I'm going to sort them by cartoonist, since so many of them appear in every issue. 

Sean Knickerbocker: The editor of the anthology and CCS grad is doing a great job in putting together these anthologies. First off, the actual page size is huge, something around 10 x 12". Each page is given a lot of room to breathe, which helps a number of artists whose style is densely packed. Knickerbocker publishes stories from others that are tonally and stylistically different, and he deftly balances one-offs with serials. Each 100-page issue is a satisfying read, in part because there's variety and some heft to them, but without the problem of feeling padded. None of these comics are a chore to read.

Knickerbocker is serializing a story called "Best of Three," which feels set in the kind of small industrial towns featuring desperate losers featured in all of his comics. This is a story about gamblers, grifters, and gangsters, only it revolves around a deadbeat dad who became a big-time and successful Magic: The Gathering player. The absurdity of this nerdy game replacing things like blackjack or poker is only matched but how absolutely true this scenario is. Magic tournaments have even been televised on ESPN. The story follows a narcissistic loser named David who inherits money from his supposedly dead father, but as the story goes on, more characters emerge from the woodwork in search of the real motherlode of money that he hid. The mobster angle gives this story a bit more frisson than the typical Knickerbocker story, which is not to say he doesn't have conflict. It's just that the conflicts are social ones and don't tend to intersect with genre tropes. That said, even the criminals in this story are grimy and desperate, accentuated by Knickerbocker's cartoony line, complete with exaggerated facial features and lumpy bodies. Each chapter takes its own unexpected twist, making it a fitting anchor for the anthology. 

Michael Sweater mixes his anthropomorphic animals with slacker punk aesthetics to tell a story that's more emotionally resonant than his stories elsewhere. "No Regrats" (in #3) is  about two rabbit friends, Timmy and Charles, and a wild night on the town that results in Timmy getting a tattoo on his chest that says "Simp." Timmy has no memory of this, so he goes with Charles to complain at the tattoo parlor, and the proprietor reveals that Charles told him to give him this tattoo. This leads to a comical fight, but the cliffhanger scene ends with Timmy saying that after the tattoo is removed, they are done. Much of Sweater's work is about being friends with horrible people who take advantage of you and what kind of impact this has on one's life, but this story is unusual in that it leads to such a direct break. As always, his storytelling chops are fundamentally sound; his scratchy line is a nice match for his cute figures, diluting some of that saccharine quality they possess. That solid storytelling allows him to focus on making his characters as expressive as possible. 

Audra Stang is someone whose Star Valley stories I'm reviewing elsewhere, but she's another regular from the first volume. This is a side story involving her young stand-in Adelaide and her friend Bernie, as they explore the tunnels underneath Magic Waters, the decrepit resort that used to make the town a tourist attraction. Stang's mix of a highly cartoony line in the vein of a Dell or Archie comic and intense greyscale shading provides a nice atmosphere for this journey underground. Paired with her friend and secret crush Bryson and his friend Jesse, Stang has a painfully acute understanding of teenage dynamics and how teens both wear their hearts on their sleeves and pretend they are completely detached. The plot revolves around Bernie wanting to take photos for a story, convincing Bryson to take them down there, but the result is both a fleshing out of every character and a bit more lore concerning Star Valley itself. Stang's stories about the conflict between working-class people and the wealthy make this a nice fit in the anthology. 

Andrew Greenstone greatly benefits from working on such a big page, because his art is dense, grotesque, and distorted. Working so big allows his art to have maximum impact, like a page where one character falls off a bike and hits the ground hard. Volume 2 continues the story of the twisted psycho who kidnapped a young woman for a demented game show, as the story mostly follows her paranoid boyfriend who's trying to protect her and reestablish their relationship. There's just enough of the first story's weirdness here to provide a strange flavor, but Greenstone swerves into the boyfriend's own madness. Greenstone's story in Volume 3 is unrelated but every bit as strange, as a zoo creates new animals thanks to the bizarre "Lemur Man" who comes out and turns humans into animals. What's great about the story is that it starts as a ridiculous urban legend that is very quickly revealed to be true, and the sort of grotesque transformation that the story demands is right in Greenstone's macabre wheelhouse. 

Brian Canini Canini is a very good cartoonist and his stories in volumes 3 and 4 were both highlights. "Silk Stockings" in #3 is a brutal family story that mixes the main character's (a teenage boy) general confusion and horniness with his parents' marriage starting to fall apart. There are just so many interesting character moments here, as the conflict centers around his father's lack of financial success coming to the forefront as they stay at his successful childhood friend's house. His friend very consciously "treats" his dad with lavish dinners, even as his mom seethes that it's not something he could pay for. Bruised egos and long-held resentments go side-by-side with the boy accidentally seeing the friend's attractive young wife put on silk stockings, sending him into a whirl of confused hormones. There's another scene where the friend's teen son expresses his loneliness by his eagerness to play hide-and-seek instead of play a video game. The simple line almost mimics something like a syndicated newspaper cartoon like "Hi And Lois" creating a tension between the conflict and the seeming happiness underneath. 

"False Flag" is a hilarious story that starts with a confusing scene with a young man half-dressed in the cold, then rewinds to a meet-cute romance, and then barrels into a spy story. The deflections and distractions work nicely in a story that utterly deflates the romantic premise, with the cute and squiggly line pushing the romantic aspect until it doesn't. 

Alex Nall's mix of naturalism, the grotesque, and the cartoonish is sometimes a mixed bag for me as a reader, but there's no question he's a thoughtful cartoonist. I can see what he's doing in terms of the style clash, but it often reads as purely dissonant instead of creating a carefully-constructed tension. However, his work in Rust Belt Review resonates, as his line seems a bit simplified for some of the stories. In "License To Kill," for example, Nall leans heavily on a thick line weight, carefully balanced black and white contrasts, and character design that emphasizes ugliness without going all the way to comically grotesque. The story follows a doomed high school crush that metastasizes into pure exploitation, until it transforms into some just desserts (literally and figuratively). "Facilities" is a sweet story about people working at a doomed mall, trying to find some solace and hope in each other. Like with Knickerbocker, there's always a sense of desperation in Nall's stories. Unlike Knickerbocker, Nall usually allows for a bit of hope. "Wall Of Fame" is a funny story about a conflict between a bartender and a regular, and it's ultimately about boundaries and space while despairing of one's ultimate fate. Nall, along with Stang and Knickerbocker, are truly the anchor artists of this anthology. 

Ian Densford & the Bros. McGovern This writer/artists team are another beneficiary of the sheer size of each page, because the Bros. use a highly smudged and messy style that's heavy on both lines and greyscale shading. Like many stories in the anthology, there's an interesting swerve in these stories. In "Soggy Landing," that smudged style is highly evocative of the muddy, messy war story that it depicts. Everyone is covered in mud and filth as a company tries to survive, waiting to be saved by reinforcements. Near the end, there's a huge swerve toward horror that's almost funny in its outrageousness, but Densford and the Bros never break character. Making the characters anthropomorphic goats somehow made the ending even more effective. The story in Vol 4 is also supernatural, swerving a bit from a coming-of-age country story. Densford is creating an interesting shared universe in these short stories, making them not quite a serial, but rather a series of thematically connected sketches.

Will Dinski has a couple of stories featuring his Eat Street Diners Club characters, who are regularly featured in an email newsletter. Dinski's weird, angular characters with minimal shading look constructed as much as they are drawn. This silly and mannered story about one of the characters finding a gun and the cop who chases him down is weird, lacking the usual sense of irony inherent in Dinski's story. He's playing this one loud and broad, and it feels a bit like filler compared to the rest of the stories in the volumes it appears in. 

Asia Bey Bey's "Open Roads" uses a four-panel grid (with amusing author comments at the bottom of each) page that really takes advantage of all the space on the page. This allows them to focus on their two leads, two young women hitch-hiking in the desert. The guy who picks them is a creep who then starts masturbating, which leads them to jump out of the car. The story really serves as a showcase for Bey's excellent and expressive figure work. While this looked to be a serial, only one entry has been published (in #2). 

Evan Salazar A number of these stories mix grounded, naturalistic settings with supernatural elements, and Salazar's story combines the lonely life of a young adult with a bit of video game fabulism. The idea of cursed games, magical games, and games that have some kind of deeper intelligence behind them is not an uncommon theme in fiction (especially in comics), and this one has a more benign one, as a strange game winds up summoning a cat that becomes the young man's companion for many years. It's not explicitly stated, but Salazar, using a sketchy and cartoony style befitting a video game, makes it work. 

Sienna Cittadino Their line is a bit wobbly at times and their character design is similarly shaky, but Cittadino is an excellent storyteller who understands tone and subtlety. It is a (presumably) autobio story that sees "Sienna" as a teen go to a pool party, only to be a largely ignored introvert. They are much more at home on a soccer field, but their mom is berating them to be happy and cheerful, and resents Sienna's lack of enthusiasm at her presence in their life. Cittadino says a lot without having to spell things out, and the solid storytelling allows them to use a paucity of dialogue.

Mike Freiheit This was a strong story by Freiheit, that starts from a fairly ridiculous place and gets exponentially funnier, weirder, and more outrageous. It's about the funeral of an awful person who plans to have their body turned into diamond and then preserved as an NFT. This was all planned by his brother, who proceeds to give the most vicious eulogy of all time, culminating in revealing that he cloned his brother and will raise that child as his own, defeating him in combat when he's 18. Of course, the bullied becomes the bully in this story, but it's so outrageous that it's hilariously satisfying. This isn't meant to teach a lesson; rather, it's one long rant against toxic masculinity. 

Sam Grinberg The best shaggy dog stories and escalating jokes start from the most absurd of premises. So it is with Grinberg's "Pancake Jake," a story about three friends. Two are ghost-hunter types who see the significance in everything, and the other is a skeptic. When they convince him of the diner monster legend Pancake Jake, who appears if you say his name three times after ordering funny face pancakes at a diner. This then actually happens (and the reveal of the monster is simultaneously terrifying and hilarious), leaving the story on a cliffhanger. Grinberg's stylized character design is appealing, especially with the way he uses blacks to provide contrast. Hopefully, this serial continues after Vol 4. 

Gina Lerman This is the first part of a serial and very little happened, as it's about a young woman going to an art residency in Vermont, being informed that aliens abducted a couple, and then not finding her friends at the remote cabin. Lerman also benefits from the big pages, as she employs a nice, thick line with a simplified line. 

Matt MacFarland MacFarland excels at slice-of-life stories, and this is a good one: recalling some summers spent as a waiter in a family-owned Italian restaurant filled with insane characters. MacFarland's line is functional and stands out when he's exaggerating character moments. The story fits snugly with the many other working-class settings for stories in the anthology. 

Raziel Puma Using a 12-panel grid (Santoro-style), Puma uses a clear-line approach to this story about a kid inspired by Allen Iverson in trying out for basketball. It's really a story about sibling rivalry that ultimately becomes a story about empathy, and freezing in the moment. Puma's drawing and storytelling are both excellent, as the story is well-paced and features a lot of expressive figures that hang together nicely on the page.

Jordan Speicher-Willis brings some punk energy to the proceedings in telling a story about a bunch of kids who pull an elaborate prank in order to help pay for school lunches for the rest of the year for everyone. That punk anarchist hatred of the system but desire for help and mutual aid is baked into the story, mixing direct action that flirts with violence but never violence for its own sake. The scribbly line from Speicher-Willis dips in and out of hatching, spotting blacks, and other techniques to keep things flowing, but it's that clear-line energy that adds clarity to the proceedings. 

Andrew White I can't imagine a better candidate to do one and two-page interstitial pieces than White, who skirts the line between pure comics-as-poetry and work that has some of these qualities but trades more in narrative. Regularly working with a 12-panel grid, White creates a poetic rhythm in his panels, often alternating word and image in each one. His use of negative space in that rhythm gives his text-only panels their own sense of weight that keeps them firmly attached to the narrative instead of taking the reader out of it. Almost every strip tends to be about environments, as you see sky, mountains, and clouds, until the final strip in the book, following a quietly tortured figure as she collects honey or syrup from trees. There's a beautiful delicacy and precision to the lightness of White's line and approach. (Full disclosure: Fieldmouse Press will be publishing a book from White.)

Friday, December 30, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #30: Bread Tarleton

Bread Tarleton (full disclosure: Fieldmouse Press will be publishing a book by Bread next year) is fascinating to follow as a cartoonist because they alternate between interesting and whimsical formal experiments and sensitive, emotionally expansive narratives. For example, My Favorite Mug is a micro-mini about a funny mug that their partner found them, a "boat mug" that prevents spillage that's decorated with horses. It's the embodiment of kitsch, and it's that ridiculous sincerity that's the big draw. Tarleton is funny in a blunt way, like in Why Are Seafood Restaurants So Horny?, which is all about the double-entendres frequently seen in mom-and-pop restaurants. For both, Tarleton uses a very immediate, almost scrawled line; in the latter, they use magic marker to great effect. Their lettering is especially clear and expressive. Things I Fidget With During Video Calls is as simple as it gets in listing things like hair bands, cords, and soup (?); there's a matter-of-factness to comics like this that makes it work. It's all about spontaneity for them, a way of keeping the pen working. 

Working with standard 8.5 x 11" paper, Tarleton's My Face Drawn in Innovative (DUMB) Ways is exactly what it sounds like: Tarleton drawing their own face running upstairs, with paper underwater, etc. It's a goof, like much of their short work, but it's also a way of continuing to expand possibilities and live with the results of spontaneous, expressive drawings. Some of them are actually quite interesting, like the underwater paper drawing. Horse is a choose-your-own-adventure comic with a similar 8.5 x 11" format, and it's surprisingly poignant for a lark. Tarleton is quite contemplative when it comes to characters pondering their reasons for being, and the horse in question makes choices that lead to staying at home with friends, living alone on a mountain, moving to the city and becoming an executive, and moving to the city and becoming an anarchist punk. Once again, Tarleton's line emphasizes the immediacy of their drawings, but the cartooning and storytelling are rock-solid. 

Moths repurposes photographs with drawings of moth characters over them to tell a story about sobriety, body image, and a desperate attempt at self-validation. The Woods is a bit of silent comics-as-poetry, as a small forest dweller observes a cycle of predation and withdraws from it. You is another attempt at comics-as-poetry, this time mixing word and images, as the unseen narrator is speaking to an unknown and unseen You. Like many of Tarleton's comics, this is a story about identity and finding one's role in the world, and how much of a struggle that can be. 

Finally, Bruce Fort: Professional Bully is a wild story about two guys who are part of a professional bullying service. When a local high school drama teacher is bullied and pranked for the third time in a month, it triggers some reflection on the part of the titular character. What starts as a clever gag comic with two lead characters with seemingly no redeeming qualities becomes something quite different halfway through. The bullying premise is turned inside-out as the victim gets the bully to not only reconsider what they're doing, but also consider how it affected his friendships. The end scene, where the two former bullies reunite in a therapeutic setting, is wild because of the kind of language they're using while still having vestiges of their outsized characters and personalities. Tarleton utterly subverts their own genre concept by critiquing and challenging toxic masculinity and allowing these characters to interrogate it as well. How one deals with anger is always present in Tarleton's comics, and finding ways to express it in a non-toxic way seems to be part of their overall project as an artist. 

Thursday, December 29, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #29: Filipa Estrela

Filipa Estrela crafts (and I do mean crafts) delightful, multi-media minicomics, often using materials like felt and then photographing it to create a narrative. For example, Find mixes paint, cut-out figures and yarn to tell a brief, poignant story about connection in the face of darkness. The yarn is used to create the lettering, and the cut-outs are posed and drawn upon in different ways to create the figures. It's an ingenious, painstaking method that's also emotionally affecting. Acceptance is a story about a young woman climbing a mountain in order to talk to a dragon about grief, and it's done entirely in intense watercolors. There's no linework at all, as Estrela instead delineates figures with big brushstrokes. 

Joy won a MICE mini-grant in 2021, and this comic is entirely made of felted figures and backgrounds, with sewing lines deliberately made visible to emphasize the constructed quality of the comic. It's incredibly complex in its construction, and Estrela takes great pain to create movement in this story of some friends getting together for a tea party and snuggling under a blanket after a rainstorm. The expressiveness of her figures is what makes this so much fun to read, even as Estrela once again is less interested in a complex story than she is in invoking a certain kind of feeling. 

Sparkle In The Fog uses assorted craft decorations to support the narrative of being a "scattered mess," as the pile is stirred up and rearranged in order to try to create something new, only to remain a mess. But the search itself is worth it, Estrela argues. My Mother's Garden sees a pivot: exquisitely rendered and printed drawings of flowers on cards with gold-ink lettering, all to the end of highlighting the flowers found in her mother's garden. It's made all the more poignant with the reveal that the garden has fallen into disarray, representing her absence; however, the persistence of the blooms provides evidence of her hand for all time. This is a superb merging of craft, artistry, and feeling. 

Gender Clown is done in a more traditional line form, only all black lines have been flipped with white and everything is surrounded by cotton candy colors. It's an interesting and personal take on gender, as Estrela eschews any particular role, preferring to embrace all of them all at once. Like a clown wearing multiple outfits, Estrela prefers to "dress in layers" with regard to gender and gender performance, and this little confection of a comic firmly establishes this idea in an inviting manner. 

Spy/Spa Day is much more conventional in terms of narrative; it's a cute story about an anthropomorphic frog and turtle who go on a "spy" day together instead of a spa; they listen in on others, sneak around, and then eventually actually go to a spa. Estrela certainly has the chops to do kids' comics if she wants; she has the rhythm and style down pat. Date Night has more of a YA vibe, and it's just as good. This is the most conventional of the comics in this collection, but Estrela's cartooning is simple, expressive, and goes in some interesting technical directions, especially when you look at line weights and the use of color in flashback and current scenes. The comic is about two childhood friends briefly reunited for a day as adults, and they find their feelings are the same as always but have evolved into something else. The moment-in-time quality of their interactions give this comic a particular poignancy and longing, just as much of Estrela's work does.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #28: Leeah Swift

Leeah Swift crafted a number of beautifully-drawn, confrontational, and hilarious comics for her CCS thesis package, but the one that sums up their work the best is probably Freex. Subtitled "Somewhat of an artist's statement/pseudo-manifesto," this comic gets at the very heart of cartooning itself. Swift likes to draw figures that can be described as grotesque: distorted, rubbery, weird, monstrous, fluid, and fantastical. She says she likes this style because "freaks allow me to be more honest than most of the social and moral conventions of the world do." This reminds me of some drawings that Marnie Galloway recently published on her Substack. She drew herself at the board--a basic, realistic drawing. It was accurate, she said, but not true. She drew another one of herself as a snail, with her three loving but demanding kids reminding her that she is going at a steady snail's pace in her work. This was true, but not accurate. Then she drew herself as a werewolf for fun--neither accurate, nor true. 

Leeah Swift draws comics that are not accurate, but they are true. And the weirder she gets, the more vulnerable and intimate the comics feel. Those terms fit better than something as nebulous as "true" is when describing anything, much less a subjective set of feelings around art. Swift zeroes in on something else: the spontaneity and immediacy of drawings that may be "mistakes"; their energy often brings something that is absent in a more labored, craft-centric drawing. At a deeper level, and from the perspective of a trans woman, these drawings make her question beauty standards and how they can promote cruelty. Concluding this series of illustrations by saying "Love every freak," it's a challenge for both herself and the reader. 

Swift describes a lot of her comics as "stream-of-consciousness." This is especially effective with several of the shorter, beautiful little art objects she creates, like I. Drawn like an ever-expanding maze, it's about being caught in an emotional labyrinth where things don't matter much. For Swift, who usually goes pretty big in terms of images, this micro-mini relies solely on a minimalist line. Butt Or What is a color experiment with a short, singular punchline that Swift critiques with a character coming saying it's merely "mildly amusing." Swift's self-caricature has a marvelously deranged quality to it, especially in the way her eyes bug out. Once again: freaky. Wiggle Water is a series of images with a Seussian labeling scheme, going from "wiggle water" to "cannon fodder" to "helpful otter." There's a precision of line, absurdity of character design, and restraint in color scheme that reminds me a bit of Paul Hornschemeier's early comics. The last of these shorter comics is Aaahh, Yes! I'm Back On My Medication!. It's another comic that shows off the crispness of her line and the vivid but tasteful use of color, as she feels invincible back on her meds, then goes off her meds because she feels invincible. 

The first of her two longer works is a eulogy/history about the punk-cabaret singer Jack Terricloth, aka Peter Ventantonio, titled I Want To Know That It Mattered. He's exactly the kind of cult figure that a teenage Leeah needs: a weirdo who defies and walks amongst conventions, veering between the sincerity of a crooner, the sneer of a punk rocker, and the self-aware showmanship of a carny barker and tent preacher. His music and performances not only had a profound influence on Swift, they also let her be a part of his cult fanbase, giving her a sense of safety in a setting where everyone was constantly redefining themselves. Swift's tone veers from personal to historical/analytical and goes straight to crass, grief-deflecting humor. She recalls she and her friends snickering at Terricloth's bulging dick in a tight-fitting suit, and then wonders allowed if she could have saved him if she had given him a blowjob. Swift is quite self-aware with what she's doing here, and her liquid and fantastical art reflects it as we see her melt into goo. Jack Terricloth mattered to her, and that's what's important. 

Leeah Swift's Stream-Of-Consciousness Comics is essentially Swift's brand at the moment: fantastical, intellectually curious, slightly lurid, and confessional. Graduating from CCS reveals an artist with considerable technical skill, a deep understanding of comics storytelling, and a probing mind. It's still not entirely clear what kind of cartoonist Swift will be. Confessional memoir? Short, humorous stories? Detailed historical analysis along the lines of what Sasha Velour was doing before she went into drag performance full time? I could see Swift doing any and all of that; their drawing and cartooning skill is such that she could go in a more commercial direction if she wanted for some projects but stay in freak realm for more personal work. In this comic, she writes an interesting essay critiquing Marvel movies but also detailing why these movies have personal significance. This is probably the weakest entry in the book, in part because the art feels a little less out-there than in their other work. Conversely, Swift's comics essay on why they find Nick Cave and his music simultaneously irresistible and problematic, with a detour into a critique of queer people desperately trying to find crumbs of queer content in otherwise aggressively mainstream work while ignoring scores of actual freaky, queer artists. The other strips are about turning 30 and also getting sober, thinking about her future, and turning away from the cynicism of her past. Both are short and sweet and a fitting end to a decade and a sustained thesis. Leeah Swift's best comics are certainly yet to come, but the path she's taken is well worth examining. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #27: Kristen Shull

Daily diary comics are an excellent practice, especially for young cartoonists who need opportunities to put techniques into action. They're also ideal for cartoonists who tend to be perfectionists to such a degree that it takes them ages to complete a page--and even then, they're not satisfied. You can't be too fussy with your line when you're doing a diary strip; you simply need to keep your pencil moving. The practice of working every day establishes good working habits and can help unlock cartoonists struggling with blocks. Lynda Barry recommends it as a practice for these and other reasons. I'd add that for someone specializing in memoir, it's an excellent way of crafting narratives out of personal events. 


One thing I tell my Rent-A-Critic clients is that it is almost inevitable that doing a diary strip will lead to diminishing returns. Not just for the audience, but for the artist as well. Barry recommends doing consecutive diary strips for no more than a year. I recommend no more than three months. When an artist starts falling behind, starts doing strips about having nothing to say, strips about how they're too busy to do a diary strip, or strips about the burden of doing these strips, then it's past time to stop doing them. 

As Kristen Shull notes in her final volume of her daily collection Ego Gala, keeping up with the strip takes on a life of its own. Her diary strips were fresh and fun when she started them, as her bright, upbeat, and mischievous attitude toward life gave her comics an infectious energy. The realities of working, the pandemic, and having too many projects to work on at once started creeping in as early as late 2019. The COVID quarantine gave her a different perspective in 2020, but as things got busier, that same feeling of "Why am I doing this?" started to return. As a reader, reading several strips in a row and then seeing Shull (correctly) talk about how dull those strips were in the next strip did not encourage one to want to read every page. 

This is especially true because there were a number of strips that crackled with her usual energy and enthusiasm. When Shull goes on a trip, or an adventure, or digs deeply into her feelings and tries to understand why she feels the way she does about things, her strips have enough story to distill into a fluid narrative. I think the reason this dissatisfaction with her daily strips resonated with Shull is that at heart, she is an artist interested in narrative above all else. It's why her fantasy stories are so fun; her characters are varied and intriguing, but they all have clearly-defined motivations. Or if a motivation is unclear, it's because it's a deliberate plot point. Shull excels at finding that balance in her genre work as she slowly blends character and plot and provides a fascinating world for them to explore. 

Memoir, especially long-form genre, is just as much a genre as anything else. Even the most urgent diary comic torn straight from one's experience is still mediated by one's point of view, memory, and particular storytelling decisions. The diary strips where Shull is spinning her wheels reflects an inherent sense of having no story to tell, just anecdotes. Quotidian details can certainly be spun into compelling narratives (Harvey Pekar remains the master), but anecdotes on their own are "just a bunch of stuff that happened," to quote Homer Simpson. 

The other problem with a daily diary strip is that the daily practice can be conflated with a daily mandate. There's a sense that if you don't cover every single day, you are somehow failing the practice. For an artist who posts every day on Instagram or their own website, it can be hard to see the bigger picture when they're so constantly in the moment. Of course, Shull's boyfriend Alex mentions the stress that the diary strips cause and asks her to cut back. Shull herself frequently wonders why she's doing this and no other comics work. That compulsion is hard to shake, until Shull does some fun fantasy stickers for a convention, is delighted with what she does, and starts to really question why she doesn't do this all the time.

Shull gets into some interesting meta territory here: what is an artist's identity? When does a specific work define an artist? Shull reveals that the sheer quantity of her practice means a great deal to her, even as she knows that there are plenty of clunkers in there. There's also plenty to be proud of as well; she writes a lot of interesting stuff about relationships, communication, and an honest appraisal of one's own insecurities. She then hits upon the fundamental issue with diary comics: no one should ever feel compelled to do one every day. That's why I recommend no more than three consecutive months in the practice, but I also tell clients that they should return to diary comics when they have something interesting and specific they want to explore. Shull comes to this conclusion before the end of the year, quitting in November. She's since done the occasional (usually weekly) diary strip that is built around specific ideas (her recent discussion of AI was interesting). Hopefully, she can focus on what she does best: fantasy stories, like the kind she does in her Fantology anthology. The one she's been cooking up is dying to be collected as a graphic novel; I hope her schedule allows her to do this in 2023. 

Monday, December 26, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #26: Fantology Volume 3

Kristen Shull and Emily Zea have produced another winning edition of Fantology, with probably the strongest issue from top to bottom. Its central conceit is that the artists have to work within an established world delineated by a map, which of course is similar to but not as rigidly prescribed as the fantasy minicomic series Cartozia Tales. The theme for this issue is "treasure," and that's a solid basis for stories because it instantly gives protagonists something to want.  

Kat Ghastly's "Lore" kicks things off, and their inventive layouts and page composition make this piece truly stand out. It's as much horror as it is fantasy, as it details a deadly prophecy concerning the new sorceress of the kingdom. Ghastly uses open page layouts, zooms in and out on key characters, uses tiny details to provide narrative and decorative flourishes, and provides rich and provocative characterization. This feels like a long book in the offing. Tay James' work is text-heavy, but the weird lettering choices and bonkers page design help with the light-hearted humor of the piece. Sage Clemmons' entry alternating illustrations with hand-written letters detailing a couple separated by life circumstances is deeply emotional, and ideal for an anthology. Natalie Norris' wordless tale of two mermaid lovers discovering a trove of human treasure is the emotional and narrative opposite: two lovers with no regard to the outside world, inseparable. The treasure amounts to simple baubles for them, instead of life-or-death plunder, and if there's one thing Norris is aces at drawing, it's slender, elegant, beautiful women. 

Emily Claire's piece about disaffected undead employees in a dungeon is funny and has a sharp punchline, although the dependence on grayscale shading made the visuals bland. A pet is a major aid in that story and in Chelsi Fiore's entry about an elf and his small steed being trapped in an underground city. These are breezy transition pieces that lead to the third chapter of Shull's ongoing fantasy story about two accidental traveling companions who both carry secrets. Shull's boisterous and bawdy style of fantasy is propulsively fun, as she pairs a serious (but horny) character with a light-hearted (but also horny) character who loves carousing, singing, dancing, and playing games of chance. Shull has a way of adding a slice-of-life touch to fantasy proceedings that centers the story around her protagonists, and both of them are memorable--both in terms of how they're drawn and their personalities. Hopefully, this makes it into a book one day. 

Michael Beachy's treasure-hunter story is a little visually overwrought, but he reins it in just enough to tell a clear and funny story. Mona's story about a bored wizard staging a tournament because he loves violence is heavy on pen-and-ink pyrotechnics, but her command over her line and clever storytelling techniques makes this fun, right on down to its cut-off ending. I get that it's part of a larger story, but not having any real closure in the story was distracting. The scratchiness of that story is followed by Stephen Pellnat's painstaking detail in service of some dynamic storytelling about a cat adventurer getting more than he bargained for on his adventure, and learning a valuable lesson along the way. There's another stylistic shift, to a sketchy, hatching-heavy story by Jackson Maceo Schleicher about a lack of honor among thieves as they look for a wishing egg. 

Rainer Kannenstine's piece is yet another visual shift, as it looks like scratchout white-on-black, with a simple, blocky line to tell this story of a grappler named Urta whose use of brute force eliminates the need for skill or magic in taking a dragon's treasure. She also has no problem declaring herself the sole recipient of the treasure and turns the dragon into her pet. My vote for most improved feature is Alex Washburn's newest entry about Clan Zargs. These ragtag adventurers get into genuine trouble, and Washburn tightens up everything here: his line, the storytelling, and even the characterizations. On the other hand, co-editor Zea's piece about a pirate challenging her family's lineage with the help of her hostage/protege/niece feels overblown and self-indulgent. She seems so delighted in her Captain Trub character that everyone else in the story is a means to the end of extolling her awesomeness. The story is still well-drawn, although the use of digital lettering takes me out of the actual story. 

While that story was a misfire, Fantology 3 not only holds up well on a story-to-story basis, the sequencing is also fluid and creates contrasts that make each story stronger. For an anthology with an open submissions policy, they did a remarkable job of putting together such a strong group of creators. It helps that there are regulars to anchor it, but this was the best all-around group to be featured in an issue so far. The conceit of Bartlebee the Bard introducing each chapter is fun, but it seems wholly unnecessary for one-shots. Given that some strips are in their third chapter, a summary of prior chapters would have been useful for readers. This volume will definitely delight readers looking for something a bit off-beat in their fantasy comics. 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #25 Andy Warner

Andy Warner's versatile and pleasing line has led him to a cottage industry of writing the histories of familiar things. His first book was A Brief History Of Everyday Objects, and he's back in his wheelhouse with Andy Warner's Oddball Histories: Pests And Pets. Overall, this is a densely text-heavy comic that is still a light read thanks to just enough visual space and an amiable writing style that makes a reader want to turn the page and see what's next. 

In a non-narrative book that is essentially just a collection of interesting anecdotes, Warner nonetheless is able to establish a throughline in this comic. By focusing specifically on animals associated with humans, he's able to make this comic as much about people as it is about animals. Raising and domesticating animals has been crucial for food and companionship since the dawn of civilization. In fact, Warner makes a compelling that civilization as we understand it would not be possible without humans domesticating animals, and horses in particular. He also notes the side-effects of civilization attracting pests that are highly adaptive. 

Dividing the book into "creatures we find cute," "creatures we find useful," and "creatures that find us useful" clarifies this narrative, and he further whets the reader's appetite at the beginning of each chapter by noting a fact about an animal and giving the page number where this is explained. It's a clever way to keep things moving and pique interest in the subjects, by baiting the reader with weird facts and anecdotes while still referring to the overarching narrative of how humans and animals are connected. 

It helps that Warner's line has a nice, thick weight to it, and that fellow CCS grad Luke Healy did the colors for the book. The colors are bright but not overly vibrant, and they never interfere with Warner's line. Warner also adds a lot of humor into the book, giving the animals funny dialogue without going overboard. That humor helps leaven things like animals bringing the plague, the ways animals are frequently used for war, and of course the way humans hunt some animals to extinction. None of these things are the focus of the book, but Warner is careful to include them. The result is a funny, informative, colorful collection of facts that hang together because of Warner's overall organizing precepts. Warner has a knack for whittling down mountains of research and information into a readable gestalt.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #24: Michael Sweater, Good Boy!

Michael Sweater embodies the aesthetic of much of Silver Sprocket's publishing output. I'm not exactly sure what to call this--cutepunk? Nerdpunk? Stonergeek? What his work in particular reminds me of most is an update on comics like Hate!, only updated for a modern audience and drawn in an anthropomorphic style. In his Everything Sucks! comic, stoner housemates Noah and Calla go in search of a crappy fast-food burger. Noah is the classic Buddy Bradley irascible nerd with a secret sensitive side. Calla is a free spirit like Lisa, and their annoying, shit-stirring friend Brad is in the mold of Stinky. Brad urges them to get tacos instead, but Noah has that self-righteous, faux-rugged individualist energy that pushes him to ignore the feelings of everyone else. A disgusting act from Brad is later followed by his accidentally starting a grease fire, an escalation of comedic circumstances. Noah winds up unhappy in the end, of course. 

Sweater has always been one to organize with others, and in the most recent instance of this, he's co-editing the anthology Good Boy! with Benji Nate. I've actually reviewed the second issue of this, which was stronger than the first issue, which I'm examining now. Unsurprisingly, Nate's comic (which leads off the issue) is one of the standouts. Nate has been extremely prolific and continues to evolve as a cartoonist; this story is about a former Magical Girl who was part of a Sailor Moon-type team who is now trying to figure out life as the mother of a teen, especially as the former leader of her group is now mega-successful AND a mother. The story ends abruptly, which makes me think it's part of a larger project. This would be quite welcome, as Nate has a knack for translating that Naoko Takeuchi energy into a more naturalistic and far sadder setting. 

Flower Alligator's story takes the cute to a meandering extreme, while Konstantinos Moutzouvis' story feels stylistically derivative of Ron Rege' in a way that's largely incoherent. CCS grad Daniel Rinylo's stories about cats and frogs are beautifully spare, strange, and funny. The pencils vary between fragile and dense, while the added drawings at the bottom of the page add to the odd quality of these stories. Dave Mercier's comic about the Mario character feels like more filler. Sam Grinberg's story of anthropomorphic geometric figures obnoxiously getting in conflicts at a casino is interesting to look at, but the cringe humor falls flat. Bastian Najdek's three page sci-fi story is yet more filler. 

Fortunately, the back half of the anthology is pretty strong. Steve Thueson is another good example of this nerdpunk aesthetic, though he writes for a YA audience. His story is about a space messenger named Jake who gets roped into helping a rebel alliance. It is completely silly and absurd, but it works because Thueson has a deadly-serious approach to depicting the actual action. The character design and characters themselves can be silly and cartoony, but the stakes are absolutely life-and-death, which gives his story a great deal of energy. Joseph Romagano's lettering project out in the wild is the kind of experimentation I'd like to see more of in this anthology. 

Sweater's own "Everything Sucks!" story concerns Calla and Phillipe, the latter of whom gave Calla a ride in the comic reviewed above. This story involves them camping out in a cemetery and a highly casual offer from Calla to make out, which Phillipe objects to because he feels like a last option instead of something she really wants to do. Of course, this all leads to them encountering a serial killer whom Calla falls for and starts making out with. I normally associate Ashley Robin Franklin with horror, but her black-and-white story about a creep trying to capture a wild Catboy is absolutely hilarious. Of course, there is a total gross-out moment (it is Franklin, after all) but it just makes it funnier. 

The issue concludes with two artists that are among my favorite in the newer group of Silver Sprocket cartoonists. Alex Krokus nails that Peter Bagge-style of fucked-up, weirdo housemates even more acutely that Sweater, as he makes sure to include the dilapidated brownstone as part of this particular roommate drama. His harsher use of color and less cute character design (they are still anthropomorphic animals, like many of the characters in this anthology) adds a gritty quality that makes it funnier. Finally, Grayson Bear's mix of cute and psychedelia is some of the strongest work visually in the anthology, as their use of red wash and zip-a-tone adds a great deal of weight and depth to the page.  

The most interesting thing about Sweater and Good Boy! is this kind of cultural blender approach he takes with his work. This is a generation of young artists who have grown up reading and watching everything--generations of comics at their fingertips, all kinds of cartoons streaming, etc. The result is a genre mishmash that ranges from cluttered and confused to innovative and hilarious, mixing ideas and images from outside of comics as well as being deeply rooted in their history. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #23: Masha Zhdanova & April Malig

April Malig's zines are closer in spirit to classic perzines of the late 80s and 90s than typical diary minicomics, in part because she frequently eschews typical line art in favor of photos heightened with color changes. There's a wonderful, revealing chattiness to these zines, as Malig in the zine Leftovers says "I just made this for fun and to make something pretty (I feel like that shouldn't be such a weird thing to say?)" Indeed not--for Malig, there's no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Malig tends to favor bright and soft colors, taking photos and altering them to emphasize pinks, blues, and purples. A lot of Malig's zines and comics are about travel, especially in Asia, and she has a way of capturing the bustle of other places with both enthusiasm and respect. 

I Didn't Write Enough Postcards is Malig's travel zine about Singapore and Taiwan. It's text followed by a photo on its opposite page, and there's a wonderful breathlessness to Malig's narration. She's unconcerned with typical tourist interests; she's there to eat and buy manga and see friends, and other fun activities along the way (like seeing a Museum of Miniatures) are a byproduct of this point of view. There's an unspoken poignancy to all of this, as it was two months before COVID shut everything down. April's Food Zine #2 is great because it's so intensely local to her in Queens, and the reviews are so quirky, like a coffee shop that sells onigiri with a chatty, dad-like guy running it. You find that Malig doesn't care about "authenticity" in the least even as her palate is quite adventurous. Malig is after delicious food and doesn't care where it comes from, including a 7-11 with some surprising fare. 

Some Tender Nothing is a combo abstract drawing/photo zine that goes into full neon colors, mimicking the night markets and street lighting she sees. All I Do is Play Animal Crossing and Online Shop is a COVID journal that captures what that particular video game did for a lot of people: provide blissful distraction, pleasant interactions with friends, and a brief halt to thinking about grief and death. It's a mix of black & white cartooning and images taken from the game itself, which Malig deliberately blurs with reality. Finally, Rotten Roses 2 continues the story of four friends in a group chat who are obsessed with a particular boys love manga and its various adaptations into other media. There are two things of note here (beyond Malig's sharp character design): the celebration of fan fiction as a creative group exercise, and the ways in which a highly specific set of mutual and obscure interests can create lasting bonds. One tends to reveal oneself through the way one makes art, but fan obsessions can also expose intimate and personal details as well. All of this is somewhat impenetrable to a reader, but the specifics of the fandom are less important than the emotions it invokes. 

Like Malig, Masha Zhdanova's tastes are highly informed by manga, among many other sources. In her micro-mini A Comics Mixtape, Zhdanova offers an unfolding map of how and which comics influenced her over the years, starting with Vera Brosgol's Anya's Ghost, in part because it made her think she could draw her own comics. Zhdanova cleverly takes the reader's eye across the page, including "downstairs" as she continues to descend into her mind. She namechecks manga, webcomics, books, and frames from Soviet cartoons her father used to show her. 

Zhdanova emigrated to the US at age two, something she explores in A Grey Mountainous Curly Wall. This is about a song sung to her as a child and her subsequent feelings of alienation toward her old country. It's not just that she was socialized as an American; the fact that she's queer, Jewish, and progressive meant that she realized she'd never feel welcome. This comic represents an attempt to connect with the music of her childhood, music directly connected to resistance in its own way. 

Lilac, subtitled "A Horror Comic," plays on some of these themes. It's about a Russian girl whose mother forces her to devour 5-sided lilacs, because it will give you good luck on your exams. It's a horror story that's really about a mother denying her child an opportunity to be herself, as the girl (Lena) falls in love with another girl and they promise to go to school away from their small town. As her mother grows sicker and clingier, it's revealed that there's more than luck going on with Lena eating the lilacs. Zhdanova's line is simple, expressive, and harsh, even as she uses soft colors as a way to create emotional dissonance. Zhdanova has a lot of refinement and greater control of her line to work on, but she already possesses a special touch in writing stories about alienation. 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #22: Andy Lindquist and Kit Anderson

Slipping, by Kit Anderson. Anderson has such a great knack for portraying loneliness, longing, alienation, and liminal places in a way that feels lived-in, gritty, and authentic. There's a question of the connection between reality and insanity and what exactly is real in her comics, a question that is rarely answered directly. Take Slipping, for example. This comic follows the monologue of a character (what seems like a trans man or non-binary person) as they explain the titular concept of "slipping." As relayed by their mother, it's a lack of awareness of one's surroundings that causes the Other Place to reach out and get us. Whether it's hell, oblivion, or something else is unimportant; what is clear is that it represents non-being at an ontological level. Anderson's scratchy line immerses the reader in every slow, painful moment, from stray body hair to pocked skin to slumped gestures. 

The monologue is aimed at a woman named Monday, who lived with the narrator until their neuroses (in the form of filling every empty second with sound) drove them away. Anderson imbues every quotidian moment in the comic (waking up, making breakfast, smoking a cigarette, taking a walk) with unspoken menace, as the reader is led to expect a "slip" for the narrator. When it comes, it hits especially hard because the narrator is making one, last desperate attempt to connect. The character's existential self-absorption inadvertently leads to their final, tragic fate, even as Monday is revealed to be worried about them. 

It's Going Fine and Who Lays The Layman? by Andy Lindquist. Lindquist's own takes on alienation are quite arresting. Lindquist zeroes in on character design, and it's got that slightly grotesque and distorted quality that Dash Shaw and Lillie Carre' both possess. In It's Going Fine, for example, the character of the mother is weathered and bespectacled, hiding years of pain behind those glasses. The story is about her daughter trying to talk to her in a very intentional way, trying to draw out her mother and engage with her as an equal instead of simply being ignored and lectured at. The daughter blows it by losing her tempo, leading her mother on an interesting segue: she tells her daughter about hearing about Sylvia Plath's death as a teenager. It was a shattering experience, so much so that she avoided the kitchen for weeks. It shaped her approach to fear: don't look. When her daughter asks if she's afraid of her, the other simply says that she loves her without answering the question. The horrifying last image is a visual representation of the mother's fear as she sees her daughter walk away. This is a sophisticated and devastating portrayal of generational trauma. 

Who Lays The Layman? is funny and sad, as it's about a superhero groupie who frequently uses a grindr-style app to hook up with a variety of metahumans. When they (a trans man) fall for a gritty superhero named the Sergeant, they feel the foolish, flushed feelings of connection that may not be real. When promises of meeting up again fade and a flirty text gathers dust, the groupie finds other company, and finds it lacking. One of the heroes, Glamorpuss, is hot and outgoing, but is not only lacking in bed, but is chatty in a way that the groupie doesn't connect with. Indeed, they are casually cruel to poor Glamorpuss, who wants to hang out and watch funny videos after sex, but the protagonist just wants to go home. 

There's a remarkable sequence where the protagonist compares being lonely at night and looking at dating apps like being high and watching fast food ads. Nothing seems better in that moment than getting that cheeseburger--and nothing makes you feel worse afterward. That materializes when they meet a hero named Funny the Strongman, who is not only weird about being queer, he also misgenders them (twice), and then claims that his condom broke. It all ends as horribly and awkwardly as one would think, with our hero swearing off apps for a bit, only to get a text from the Sergeant. Lindquist touching on the essential queerness of superheroes is an homage to Watchmen, of course, but by touching on trans issues and issues related to both BDSM and consent, they take it a step further. In both of their comics here, Lindquist demonstrates razor-sharp storytelling instincts with interesting swerves, bringing a touch of horror into a story about family trauma and bring grief and deep alienation into a story about sex and superheroes. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #21: David Yoder & Amy Burns

David Yoder's best comics have always been his humor comics, and he's focused on that in recent years with his strips that react to movies. His Movies That I Watched minicomic is based on comedian Doug Benson's movie-a-day project where he was going to watch a movie a day for an entire year. Yoder one-upped that by attempting to draw a comic reacting to a movie a day for an entire year. Well, he managed to crank out 45 strips from this idea before succumbing to fatigue. While many of these strips are funny, you can see the fatigue start to build up as the art for the later strips gets sketchier and sketchier. Wisely, Yoder stopped and rethought the whole project.

What wound up happening instead was working with writer David Carter as they'd watch a movie together. Yoder would do a strip a week and Carter would write a full review as a sort of package item. In their David And David At The Movies collections, their collaboration works nicely in bunches, thanks to their different tones, styles, and methods of working. It's not just that Yoder tends to be more succinct than Carter because he's a cartoonist, it's also that he synthesizes that knowledge like a comedian--much like Benson. So his reviews aren't beat-by-beat, but rather feature some visual gags, digressions, and fantasy bits, along with actual analysis of the films. Carter thoroughly critiques each film from the point of view of someone who knows a lot about film history, and it shows. However, his reviews are in the same spirit as Yoder's in that they start as a dive into the particulars of the film along with the prior work of the actors, writers, and directors. Along the way, the reader becomes more aware of the overall aesthetic point of view of both Yoder and Carter. I thought their reviews of Hidden Figures were especially on target, with Yoder bringing the laughs and Carter waxing philosophical about the history of biopics. 

Amy Burns has a cute, spare style that lends itself both to absurdist humor and graphic medicine. With regard to the latter, she collaborated with writer Keilani Lime to do a book called No Spoons For You. This is a reference to Christine Miserandino's "Spoon Theory," a metaphor for those with chronic illness and/or disability to use in order to explain that they have a limited and variable amount of energy on any given day, measured in "spoons." When a person runs out of spoons for the day but still has things to do, they can "borrow" spoons from the next day at a high price, or simply be forced to stop, something that can be quite frustrating.

Lime puts this all in fantasy trappings with Burns giving the whole thing a positive sheen with her approachable and fun linework. There are gremlins that cause brain fog, supportive partners, managing medicines, and other struggles. There are funny repeating motifs (like a blanket, hot water bottle, etc being the main character Sunny's "best friend forever and ever"), but there's not so much a narrative so much as there a sense of trying to make readers understand what a struggle a single day can be without using a miserabilist approach. 

Burns' own work tends toward poetic examinations of their own medical issues or absurdist fantasy shenanigans. You'll Never Find The Sun is an effective allegory about ontology, imagining a time not only before one's existence, but before the existence of anything. Then the big bang is compared to one's birth, finding one's parent, finding one's parent...but not finding the sun. It's explained that this comic is a reaction to discovering a diagnosis of lupus, a disease that is associated with sensitivity to sunlight. The problem with the otherwise beautiful presentation is that this expression of grief feels private; the connection to lupus, to being unable to find the sun in the comic feels entirely unconnected. There's nothing wrong with a poetic and private expression of grief, but the explanation afterwards felt tacked-on. 

On the other hand, Belly Wō Belly: Bard Search, is absurd at every level. It's about a sentient stomach who is captain of the Queen's Royal Guard, who wears a human body as its armor. He's obsessed with gummies, who are both food and messengers, and his own ego. He begs the Queen to hire a bard to regale the People with tales of his glory, and Belly runs the search. He doesn't find a bard, but he does fill other open positions in the Queen's court, like Director of Waste Management. There are even sillier and delightfully self-indulgent digressions along the way, which only makes sense. If you're going to do a silly comic, you may as well go all the way.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #20: Sam Held, Isabella M. Hall, Colleen Frakes

Attercop, by Sam Held. Anyone who's ever read The Hobbit knows that an attercop is a sort of insulting term for a spider, as it holds a double meaning as a disagreeable person. In Held's comic, there is a monstrous giant spider who wears an adorable straw hat who is kind and polite. Held's use of color makes this comic sing, as the spider goes about its day in the forest, being careful not to hurt smaller creatures as it looks around. The spider finds a book on gardening and is able to deduce its meaning from the images in it, and sets out to make their own garden, complete with scarecrow. This is just a delightful story that isn't much in terms of plot but still gives the reader some stakes as the spider is on a quest to make things beautiful. It seems like a perfect introduction for a wider series of adventures. 

Life With Diabetes! and Pawdust by Isabella M. Hall. Hall works in a clearly manga-inspired style; I'm not sure I could name the specific influences, but it's obvious this is the subgenre she's comfortable drawing in. Her Life With Diabetes! comic is presented as a rant, but it's honestly more of an entirely reasonable set of facts about type 1 and 2 diabetes, along with some very mild complaints about not feeling seen. (The irony is that this is actually the third minicomic I've seen from CCS grads on this very subject as living with type 1 diabetes; Sam Gaskin's Sugarcube and Nomi Kane's Sugar Baby are the others.)

So the comic revolves around seeing a social media post about the movie Turning Red and seeing one of the young characters wearing a diabetes patch. Hall goes into detail about how diabetes works, including the symptoms as well as the science behind it. Hall then goes back to the reference in Turning Red, and how few instances of a patch are in media. Hall says some other interesting things, as she regards being diabetic as part of her identity, and that if there were some catch-all cure, she wouldn't take it. In part, it's because she wants to be a visible role model--hence, this comic. The problem with this comic is that it's neither fish nor fowl; there's a tenuous personal narrative that is only really emphasized toward the very end. There's fairly basic graphic medicine content that's not really connected to any other narrative. There are instances of personal connections, like the diabetic teddy bear children receive to practice given injections on, but it's yet another fragment, not part of something bigger. It's a rant in the sense that it feels spontaneous and all over the place, but it feels restrained as well. There's a disconnect with Hall's dynamic art style, which makes it feel like more should be happening on a given page. 

If graphic medicine doesn't quite seem to be Hall's bag just yet, it's clear that their comic Pawdust shows off what they excels at. This is only the first book of a much longer story, From the very first play of this mother-son story, Hall's command over color is arresting but tasteful. She doesn't sacrifice her line to color, as the first scene is beautifully composed. The story blurs from black and white to blurs of color, with highly expressive characters in this story of a boy who has a connection to dying animals. Finding a dying bird on the seashore, his mom comforts him and tells him about how everything goes in cycles, and death is part of this. When they do a little ritual for the bird's soul, he sees it fly off, establishing a future plot point while finishing a key emotional beat. The story is set in the present, but there's something hazy about it, like there are lots of tricks of memory for the boy that flash into his mind's eye. There are plenty of visually spectacular sequences in the comic, but the key note here is Hall's overall sense of taste and restraint. 

Colleen Frakes is perhaps the most prolific of all CCS grads, considering her status as a member of its initial graduating class. She's also been one of its most consistent artists, as she long ago found a niche as someone who used fantasy genre trappings to tell stories with a deeply feminist bent. Her stories are often about families: dysfunctional families, found families, loving families, and families stretched to their limits. The perils they face are often faceless, terrifying, random, and merciless. Sometimes people are just in the way of monstrous appetites with no regard for life. Frakes can switch gears and do autobio with the best of them, however, and I've long admired her self-caricature for its expressiveness. Her line is so lively and is usually thick enough to add some real heft to her drawings. Let's take a look at her most recent minis. 

Clever Hanne Saves Her Sister From The Troll King is very typical of her work, and it was done over the span of a month in October of 2018. This is less a comic than it is a series of illustrations with captions at the bottom, telling the story of a young woman whose sister is kidnapped by trolls. As she pursues the troll to find her sister, she does various kindnesses along the way for various creatures she encounters and receives an assortment of useful items. When she reaches the troll cave, the Troll King turns her sister into a troll. The twist here is that the Troll Queen turns against her husband, turns her sister back into a human, and then later becomes part of the young woman's family. There are familiar elements from fairy tales, but the ending subverts aspects of these familiar stories. 

Iron Scars vol 6 and vol 7. Encompassing chapters 4, 5, and 6 of her epic series about a conflict between a family of witches and dark fey on an island, Frakes uses her own experiences in conveying the sense of isolation and weirdness of growing up with a bunch of other families in a remote location. The evil elves (of the Unseelie Court) are kidnapping kids from the village, including the kin of witches. These chapters represent the efforts of some of the kids to fight back by trying to learn the name of the Queen of the Unseelie Court to get power over her. There's also a chapter about the Sand Witch working to try to parley with the Unseelie Court, before they have to do something like go to war. Frakes' line is a delightful combination of thick, bold lines with sketched-out figures that allow the reader to fill in gaps. Her use of gesture in particular is a big part of what makes her comics fun to read. 

Your Mom Friend Is Not Okay is an infrequent example of Frakes doing memoir, something she only tends to do when she really has something to say. In this case, she writes about her harrowing experience giving birth. I've read a number of birthing stories in comics form (it's fantastic that it's become fairly common), but there's a sense where Frakes published this out of sheer frustration. Along the way, there are still some funny observations that have everything to do with an idealized conception of childbirth that rarely materializes. 

What's interesting is that Frakes did this using some prompts. For Hourly Comics Day in 2019, she used the mechanics of doing a comic every hour to talk about her birth experience, which was horrific. The strip serves as an introduction to the rest of the comic, as she notes that an emergency c-section incision was made before her epidural anesthetic kicked in, her midwives never listen to her, and her baby had to have an emergency blood transfusion. There was a hippie midwife who downplayed her fears, having to deal with a pain scale she didn't understand, and a friend who told her that babies freak him out and they were gross. (In other words, what NOT to say.)

Frakes also details how having a baby gave other people a sense of entitlement to her experience--especially her mom, who was angry that someone threw Frakes a baby shower but didn't think to invite a bunch of people that she wanted there. Frakes shows her mom a diagram of how to treat people in crisis; sending comfort and support to "outer rings" (friends to family to partner to patient) and move that in, and send complaints and "what about me" feelings outward. Thus the person in crisis doesn't have to deal with other feelings, and people at various stages in the circles have outlets. Frakes' strip about this is very funny, as her mom replies "Your grandma wouldn't like this," leading to a plop take. There are strips about introducing formula (always a touchy subject), her midwife's dismissal of her symptoms nearly leading to tragedy, going to the hospital anyway, and a rapid escalation of symptoms. Her mom was there to "help" and tried to walk off in a huff when she felt unappreciated. The comic concludes a year later with another hourly comic strip, shifting into a different new normal that is still stressful, right before COVID hits. Throughout it all, her line art shines, with her thick line for figures and finer line for expressions and features the bedrock of her lively cartooning. Frakes is generally a fairly serious storyteller, but this makes her moments of humor all the more effective; she's not so much trying to tell gags as she is relate the frustrating absurdity of certain situations.