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. 

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