Saturday, December 10, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #10: Leise Hook & J.D. Lunt

Leise Hook has had some early success in her career with the New Yorker and other venues, and given her spare but expressive line and thoughtful approach to storytelling. There's a reserved quality to her work that provides an interesting contrast to its inherent emotional content. For example, The Nest is a story about COVID and quarantining, as related to various attempts at mourning doves laying eggs outside her windowsill in the New York apartment she shares with her partner. The eggs laid were always a sort of physical manifestation of the renewal of life that chased away the existential dread of the pandemic. Each time, something would intervene to kill the eggs. Sometimes it was a storm, sometimes it was shoddy nest construction, and finally it was wily crows who were aware that Hook was trying to shoo them away. As COVID rates rose and Hook wondered how people become aware when the world has turned against them, she endeavored to keep trying with the doves, and as it is implied, with her own struggle against giving into despair. 

One way Hook does this is through humor. Some Jokes & Drawings contains a number of single-panel gag strips rejected by the New Yorker, but it also serves to act as another kind of COVID journal. There are a lot of very amusing conceptual gags here, like the masks of comedy and tragedy being obscured by N95 masks, so there's no way to tell which is which. There are jokes about social media, masking, the anxiety of zoom meetings, and the apocalypse. Many of these things are related. There are some solid gags here; a few are a bit dated, but most of them still land in a direct but mostly gentle way. 

Birthday Blues, by J.D. Lunt. Everything about this comic is big: the pages, the drawings, and the feelings. Lunt uses 8.5" x 11" paper for this memoir about the passage of time and changes in identity and circumstances. A lot of this comic is about processing things creatively; he discusses being part of a life-changing comics residency but notes that he's had trouble finishing projects since then. He talks about his strained relationship with social media, and how travel can be an antidote for it. Most importantly, he discusses the role of the folk artist Bert Jansch and his album Birthday Blues have had in his life at various points, including as a younger man at an evangelical college. Ultimately, this is a comic about coming to terms with mourning, empathy, and isolation. Lunt's PTSD (as detailed in previous comics) often leads him to isolation and melancholy, but the comic itself is a way to reach out and acknowledge the perils of isolation and embrace the gift (and risks) of connection. Lunt's willingness to be open and vulnerable is a gift both to readers and himself. There are times when his line looks like he's perhaps worrying too much about naturalism, and it can make some of his pages look stiffly drawn. In other spots, he abandons that for a more cartoony and expressive style that's far more adept at expressing the immediacy of his feelings.

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