Thursday, December 21, 2023

45 Days Of CCS, #21: Bread Tarleton

Bread Tarleton is in an exciting stage of their career, as you can see them starting to level up with each new publication. (Full disclosure: Fieldmouse Press will be publishing an original graphic novel by them in the next year or so.) However, you can also see this evolution in recent minicomics as well. 

Body Building reminds me a bit of the sort of comics Luke Kruger-Howard would do, and I mean this as a high compliment. It's an origin story, as a new entity is brought into the Body. Whose body is irrelevant, but the new entity is welcomed by another amorphous but bipedal figure and told to give it some time to adjust. There's a hilarious sequence where the new being asks who they all are, and the other figure replies, "You're the hum in our ear, and I'm the sense of self...I was born out of a desire for self-insight...and you were born because we keep listening to music too loud." The Hum rightly recoils at the lack of equity, but Self insists that everyone is equal and part of the whole. There's a party where the Hum gets to meet people and then a committee meeting where previous inhabitants of the ear agree to go elsewhere. The Hum is an incredible character--confused, cynical, scared, and ultimately accepting and trusting of their fate. The blue wash, thick line, and clever page composition all contribute to this ultimately freeing meditation on what it means to be embodied. 

While Body Building is clearly personal, Flip Turn is deeply autobiographical. It's about Tarelton's relationship with their body, with water, with being fat, and with gender identity--and how all of these tie together. Using shades of aqua green and blue, Tarleton investigates and interrogates their feelings of being a failure of masculinity as a child, due to their physique. Being fat was essentially being resigned to being a beta--a joke, ineffective, impotent, "the butt of the joke." They internalized to a self-destructive degree, allowing their parents to deny them food at times and relentlessly exercising. This led to a constant state of being angry, masked by a facade of good humor and self-denial. Swimming competitively made it worse, and worse still that their teammates were supportive and gave compliments that felt backhanded and pitying. Eventually, after years of resignation and dissociation, Tarleton notes that they moved away from that when they understood and embraced their trans identity. The comic ends on Tarleton swimming for the first time in years, in a river at a family function. It's a full circle moment, allowing themselves to embrace their essential comfort in the water without the onus of competition or being perceived as a spectacle. Tarleton's storytelling is assured and the composition on each page is so dynamic. Tarleton leans on this storytelling more than their actual drawing, but their linework has also advanced compared to their earlier comics. These comics are a sign of a cartoonist who is starting to fully come into their mature style and it's obvious that they know it, and it's a thrill to see as a critic who's followed their work for years.

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