Sunday, December 17, 2023

45 Days Of CCS, #17: Mannie Murphy and Dean Sudarsky

Mannie Murphy's impassioned tour through the seedier and racist aspects of their hometown Portland in I Never Promised You A Rose Garden became one of my favorite books. Of course, that book had its origins as minicomics first, and they've released a sixth chapter as a follow-up: The Tonya Issue. In the same style as in their book, Murphy's watercolor technique is presented here in grayscale, and the lined paper they drew on gives this the feeling of a high school student goofing off from their real assignment in order to write about the things that mattered. The issue indulges in Murphy's childhood obsession with disgraced figure skater (and Portland native) Tonya Harding, a figure that in the early 90s drew an astounding media frenzy after her skating rival Nancy Kerrigan was injured in an attack staged by Harding's abusive boyfriend. However, no matter how avid a fan she was, Murphy's clear-headed and even judgment regarding the facts of the matter are what add even greater depth to the story.

The story is so familiar that Murphy doesn't even bother introducing Kerrigan with her full name, referring to her simply as "Nancy." Like the other stories Murphy tells in this narrative, it's one with a great deal of personal meaning to them. Murphy reveals their obsession with figure skating as a child, and the sport was never more dramatic (not more beset by racism and classism) than it was then. Murphy recalls trying to get Harding's autograph at an art show featuring portraits of her, only to be denied. Murphy called it a tragic fall from grace from a figure who in many ways, never really had a chance. Much of this series is about detailing the cultural touchstones and figures that Portland got to call its own, and Murphy's reference to the Portland Trail Blazers NBA team makes me wish they'd tackle that topic next. 

Published by the excellent Entropy Editions, Dean Sudarsky's 65 Bugs is reminiscent of early Michael DeForge comics. This is a series of titled comic strips, most of which are three panels, following the lives of anthropomorphic insects. The way Sudarsky draws their bodies with human anatomy twisted into insectoid poses (most similar to a praying mantis or cricket) is genuinely unnerving, and his treating their speech completely within the context of what the insects would actually do is a stroke of genius. My favorite strip was "Crab," where we see an anthropomorphic crab (complete with oversized hands in place of claws) amused by a tiny insect until a bird picks it up and carries it off, with the crab helplessly yelling "Face me!" to its avian captor. The strips are about mating, trying to avoid mating or thinking about mating, devouring, being devoured, and even trying to seek out a few moments of peace. Sudarsky's line is fine and delicate as he carefully renders each figure with great clarity, emphasizing the expressive nature of each insect's faces as well as their twisted body language. 

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