Wednesday, December 13, 2023

45 Days Of CCS, #13: Rachel Bivens

Rachel Bivens is a clever cartoonist who expresses a great deal of emotional vulnerability in her comics. She's leveled up considerably in the last year or so, with all three of her more recent releases looking sharper in terms of both drawing and cartooning than her earlier work. She still also pursues a lot of different kinds of cartooning, from memoir to absurdist humor to surreal slice-of-life comedy about anthropomorphic fruit.

Fruitlings! features said anthropomorphic characters, and Bivens has really hit on something here. These are 4-panel comic strips, and Bivens printed it as a landscape side-scrolling minicomic. It's an attractive and effective format for these full-color comics, which start off cute and then veer into some different directions. The fruit shyly have crushes, appeal to other fruit for relationship advice, and talk about their feelings. They are also eaten by birds, have worms burst out of them, and deal with breaking away from bunches. That combination of very cute horror and quotidian interactions makes for an unpredictable reading experience, as it whiplashes from one extreme to another, but that's what makes it fun. Bivens' line is simple and inviting, but it's her bright use of color that heightens these extremes. 

DLG is a black-and-white strip about how one's relationship with one's parents can become strained and even invasive during the transition between childhood and young adulthood. The title acronym, of course, stands for "Daddy's little girl," and it refers to the protagonist's father needing her to acknowledge him via text when he asks "SNS?" That stands for "safe and sound," and while a parent's need to know their child is safe is understandable, the context of this comic reveals that it's an invasive form of control. Bivens tells the story with a lot of fairly still images as the protagonist is at the drawing table, receiving the dreaded "SNS" message. There are a series of flashbacks with the protagonist at camp, with a reasonable expectation of earing from a kid, but it persists through college and beyond. In the end, the protagonist ponders options (automatic replies?) and eventually leaves him hanging, creating a necessary boundary. Here, the otherwise silent comic is economically drawn, going deliberately sketchy and expressive as a way of expressing a series of sense memories. The gaps and negative space do a lot of narrative work as the protagonist balances just how to solve this problem. 

Finally, there's Milk. This is a triumph of formal play, as the mini is shaped like a mini milk cartoon and the purple ink and thick cardstock simply make it pleasing to hold and look at. The story is an absurdist account of a Bivens stand-in queueing up at a giant carton of milk for a drink. Along the way, a soccer game bursts into the middle of the line, spills milk out of the enormous carton, and causes mayhem. The end is tense, as things don't go the protagonist's way. This is a silly but well-constructed and cartooned comic with a line reminiscent of Charles Schulz in terms of both its simplicity and expressiveness. 

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