Wednesday, December 14, 2022

31 Days Of CCS, #14: Lillie J. Harris and Coco Fox

Coco Fox is the rare cartoonist whose non-cartooning activities I'll mention in a review, because her upbeat authorial persona is 100% accurate in real life as well. As a host of various follies in White River Junction as well as a workshop leader (including one for me at SPX), she truly is a walking ray of sunshine. Beneath that enthusiasm, however, is a sharp intellect carefully guiding a reader, student, or audience member in interesting and intentional ways. Fox also understands how the decorative aspects of art add value and delight in projects with rock-solid foundations.

At SPX, she sold "Little Ghouls Fortune Telling Cards," a sort of all-ages card deck based on Tarot principles. Accompanied by a minicomic that gives the interpretations of each card (the Mouse, the Rockstar, the Snail, the Ghost, the Pencil, the Detective, etc.), Fox cleverly devised an uplifting and affirming series of creative prompts. It recognizes the negative aspect of each creative urge (the Detective out of balance is bored) and how to get back into balance (for the Detective, it's "crack open a book, baby!"). Fox also sold a mini fitting into this gently spooky theme called "Ghost Jokes," which features her delightfully cute and expressive line and some deliberately groan-inducing punchlines. It's all packaged in a sheer bag decorated with suns and moons, tied off with a ribbon. The whole thing is a delightful package aimed at pre-teens, but it's fun to look at for any audience--like the best lit aimed at kids. Fox's cartooning seems highly intuitive; having followed her career, she's wisely focused on gesture and expression instead of the drawings themselves. As a result, she's developed an irresistible style that pares down lines to their essence while retaining an idiosyncratic quality that makes the final results cute without being cloying.

Wilderness, by Lillie J. Harris. This story has had a couple of different iterations, but it's always revolved around a young man named Roscoe (also known as Jemiah), who sees things a little differently. His second sight was more prominently featured in the prologue comic for this story; this version leaves some of the supernatural elements behind in favor focusing on its human elements. In particular, it centers around Roscoe, who is traumatized from a car accident that cost him his arm; Beau, a prizefighter with a secret, and his sister Ronny, a drifter who is on the run. 

Roscoe and Beau strike up an unlikely friendship, as Roscoe is a painter and Beau likes to whittle. Beau is out in the woods when Roscoe finds him and recognizes that his new friend is out looking for roots and herbs to help him with sleep. These are Roscoe's "tinctures," and they both recognize that they have ways of expressing themselves that are private and personal. The big reveal is that both Beau and Ronny are werewolves, and she joins her brother for the full moon and their transformation. At its heart, this is a story about generational trauma. When Beau and Ronny take in a little kid werewolf who has obviously been mistreated by her mother, it triggers a lot of old feelings for both. As Beau has tried to figure out what to say to his mother, Ronny has avoided dealing with her presence in her life, until she's forced to confront it when they meet the kid. Roscoe has his own issues with her preacher father who tries to downplay his memories and trauma, and that's why Roscoe and Beau are kindred souls. Harris' nightmarish splashes of color, silent pages of traumatic memories, and visceral violence all coalesce to tell a story of family trying to survive their pasts and making unlikely new connections. It uses the tropes of horror in clever ways that only enhance the psychological aspects of the story. It also doesn't feel quite finished; or rather, that a sequel seems to be needed to explore these stories a bit further.

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