Friday, December 22, 2023

45 Days of CCS, #22: Robyn Smith

Robyn Smith is one of the most talented and successful of all the graduates of CCS. Be it mainstream work like Nubia for DC, award-winning illustration jobs like Wash Day Diaries, or their own, more personal work, Smith's command both over color and line is expressive and beautiful. Their recent entry in the Short Box Comics Fair, Roast Or Fry, is a story about her native Jamaica that starts out in one place and swerves in a rather incredible way. Smith crams an entire book's worth of pettiness, infighting, intrigue, mystery, and mayhem in under thirty pages, with a repeating visual motif that embodies the entire story. 

The story follows the day after a big party with drunken consequences. The protagonist is a young woman named Trelawney, who's part of a group chat with a bunch of old school friends who were in the same home room. Smith sets the scene with Trelawny waking up after a drunken night where she was roped into celebrating her rich school friend Aisla opening up a new spa in honor of a friend she had made over the internet as a child named Paolo. A hung-over Trelawney tries to reconstruct the night by going back over her texts, which was an incredible storytelling device because it put the reader in the same boat that she was. What was her relationship with these people? She referenced guilt--over what? It was made abundantly clear that she didn't have much money by Aisla herself. Immediately, the reader wonders where all of this is going, which details are important, and why. 

A running theme is the huge fruit, possibly a guinep, that falls from a tree. As it slowly dawns on Trelawny what happened the previous night, the attention she's paying toward cooking up the fruit starts to wane. Using a series of flashbacks cleverly accentuated by different color patterns, Smith slowly starts to reveal the significance of what seem to be anecdotal or incidental bits of trivia. Instead, Smith's fiendish attention to detail unravels a jaw-dropping revelation whose ramifications continue to spiral even as the story ends. As always, Smith's figurework and use of gesture could carry entire pages even without text. However, it's their page composition that was truly impressive in this comic. Inset panels, decorative elements surrounding panels, panels at odd angles, the use of a rear-view mirror as a panel--every page has something new and slightly disorienting to challenge and engage the reader. Smith's writing is so sharp and has a nasty cynicism that serves her characters well. 

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