Tuesday, December 12, 2023

45 Days Of CCS, #12: Ellie Liota, Clover Ajamie

Clover Ajamie is a CCS student whose comic Bar Back is a lovely little slice-of-life romance featuring queer characters. This isn't so much a story as it is a brief character impression. It follows Cass, a trans man and bartender who's about to go on their shift. Some romantic possibilities are immediately implied, as Cass's partner Andie asks if a cute bartender named Ryan will be there. This is a great example of a comic that uses color to advance the emotional narrative of a story. The base color wash is a coral-pink, and the accents are a lime-green. That's an interesting choice as an accent, because that particular hue tends to be associated with sickly images. Ajamie reimagines it as a sort of loose neon energy (the bar's sign is in this color) that gives emphasis to the romance later in the comic between Ryan and Cass. There's no real tension or story in this book other than romantic tension; nothing bad happens, nor do we learn much about these characters. That's not the point of the story, however; it's a moment in time, the sort of perfect moment that embeds itself in our consciousness, and Ajamie's use of color emphasizes this. 

Ajamie's Fairies, self-described as a work in progress, builds on the romance aspects of Bar Back in the context of a village of fairies that focuses on the teens. The black and white pencils are delicate and almost fragile, using a thin line designed to play up the fabulist qualities of the forest. Ajamie goes back and forth in time, cutting between different characters and winding different stories into each other. It reminds me a bit of Robert Altman-style scene flipping, as Ajamie builds character narrative into the world-building aspects of the story. Every detail we learn about the fairies is part of learning something else about one of the characters. For example, we see one fairy grow angry at her friend for making fun of her grandfather, who builds a device to help him take a shower. The plot focus of this part of the story, a dance for young fairies, is integrated with the embarrassing (to a teen) overattention from a mother, the boasts of fairies as to their attractiveness, and nerves about dancing. Ajamie succeeds by turning the fantastic into the mundane, as the fantasy trappings recede into finding out what makes each character tick.

Ellie Liota's Lamb To Slaughter is the kind of horror comic that at its heart is based on a really nasty gag. The style and boldness of its gore recalls Emily Carroll, but Liota's voice and style are uniquely hers. A big part of that distinction is Liota's immediately establishing this as a story about class as much as it is anything else, and she uses the anthropomorphic animal characters for both literal and metaphorical purposes. It's fiendishly clever, as the story's final, shocking swerve is entirely earned, with any number of clues establishing it along the way. In this story, we see a wolf coming back to her noble family's elaborate and extensive manor house. She's greeted by a rabbit servant and then her mother, who is disappointed by bringing back just two sheep. The reader is then introduced to house intrigue, as the rabbit is the wolf daughter's lover, and they are planning to run away together. However, something is off about the whole thing, even as the wolf mother kills the rabbit after overhearing the conspiracy. That leads the wolf daughter to nearly peel off in fear, until she sees the bust of a ram above the door; with renewed purpose, she trudges back to set up the amazingly clever climax that immediately reveals the title has a double meaning. Liota's cartooning is appropriately visceral, with the soft color tones giving way to the deep red of blood. It's rare that a cartoonist can successfully keep a protagonist's motive hidden for the majority of the story, but Liota pulls it off by shifting the narrative sand with such a fine level of detail that the reader never knows what hits them. 

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