Monday, August 21, 2023

Minis: Wenting Li

Both of Wenting Li's minicomics here (Diary Fantasy and Libra Szn) are not only visually interesting in a Riso style, they are also both so intimate as to be uncomfortable. I got the sense of "Should I be reading this?" in how achingly vulnerable and open these comics are. Diary Fantasy is like a second cousin to Sophia Foster-Dimino's classic Sex Fantasy comics, done in a similar style with highly distinct and stylized character designs. The Riso work here is sharp and adds layers of depth to each of the scenes in ways I don't often see in most Risographed comics. Some of it feels like repurposed Instagram photos transformed into dreamy crowd scenes, intimate moments, and simple moments of aesthetic grace and beauty. Li has an eye for this sort of thing, and her drawings mix a clear line with blocky & chunky figures, giving each page a light quality that's then delightfully crowded up by the figures on the page. From a dim sum dinner to a nude beach to a curious examination of a watch repairman at work, there's just sheer delight in these seasonal observations. The stories behind the images hint and peek out at the reader without going into any detail; Li is simply trying to get across a sense of being present in the moment and yearning for it now. 

Libra Szn is quite the opposite in many ways--Li piles on details of multiple kinds of intimate moments. This is thinly-veiled fiction that is effective in grayscale, but I couldn't help wondering what the rich colors on the cover might have looked like in the interiors. The main character, Yuyin, is in her late 20s but has little sexual experience and is taking the opportunity to, as she puts it, get "more info." She's also a window-making artist traveling to do a big job, and she goes on a very cute, wholesome date that culminates in hands being held and a single kiss (and as the protagonist notes, only her second-ever). Li once again excels at portraying the bustle and energy of street life and the sort of lives that communities of artists inhabit. That constant hum of creativity as the lifeblood of a community is always there in the background, even when Li is more focused on individual relationships. After a lifetime of mostly ignoring sex, she makes out with a friend in a club bathroom and then hits up a guy she's texting with, saying "Fuck it it's Libra szn." After a comic full of mostly chaste, flirty scenes, the final scene features Yuyin and a guy named Carm exploring each other's bodies in a literal sense. There is both raw passion and almost painful intimacy in their conversation, as the two lovers slowly and carefully discover what the other likes and wants to do. The mix of naturalism and fantasy drawings (like a nipple dissolving into water) gives the reader an intense account of how the encounter feels from Yuyin's point of view. These comics feel like Li confidently finding her footing as a cartoonist, but they also feel like a transition to something much bigger.

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