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. 

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