Monday, December 25, 2023

45 Days Of CCS, #25: Iris Yan and Mercedes Campos López

Iris Yan is one of the funniest of all the CCS grads. Though she works exclusively in memoir, she injects humor into most of her work, and it's both bone-dry and frequently dry. There's a total absence of sentimentality in her comics, which is what allows her to be so matter-of-fact regarding any number of upsetting things. In one mini, (originally published in the My Pace 02 anthology), she considers the death and then subsequent funeral service for her mother. While there are genuinely touching moments in the comic, Yan also spends time wondering if her mother was on a secret hockey team after receiving a wreath from "the team." Another short comic was Teaching English In Taiwan, which is exactly what it sounds like. Yan's tone is so funny because of the way it shifts; there are times when she's unbelievably (and hilariously) harsh in talking about her Taiwanese students, but she also tenderly discusses how much they look up to her and are grateful for the class. As always, Yan is intensely curious about local customs and culture, which is another key aspect of this mini. 

As always, Yan's line is consistently wobbly, but it never detracts from the expressiveness of her anthropomorphic figures. Yan depicts herself as a pig, and she draws herself as a pig on two feet rather than a pig with more human figures. This is true of all her figures, which is part of the humor of her comics. For example, in the unrelentingly hilarious Pigs In Heat, Yan tells four different stories about going to a "swing house" in her native Brazil. It's a house for swingers to have sex in, with an entry fee. Never have I read a more sex-soaked comic that was less erotic than this one, thanks to Yan's unshakeable character design. Birds fuck bears, monkeys fuck turtles, etc. It's a smart choice, because Yan also emphasizes the total absurdity of this situation; it's enough to make one question one's own desire. Yan is also interested in logistics while maintaining her trademark bluntness about everything. 

It's no surprise that My Brief Colon Cancer Story is one of the better cancer narratives I've ever read. As a former cancer professional, I despise narratives that valorize the treatment process in any way. That was never a concern with Yan, who opens the book detailing the cancer-related deaths of her own parents and her blunt unwillingness to engage with the obvious symptomatology she faced. Yan details, in chronological order, exactly what she experienced as she was tested for cancer, got surgery, and then later got chemotherapy. Details about the friends and family who came with her, the amenities of the hospital, the personalities of her caregivers, and her generally sharp tongue make this as funny as it is a highly informative work of graphic medicine. Yan's line may be shaky, but there's no doubt that she's an effective cartoonist whose art makes her stories even funnier.

Mercedes Campos López's background in biology is in full effect in her comic Virus. It is a highly effective primer on COVID, cleverly and thoroughly explaining what exactly a virus is, how they spread, how they mutate, and how this relates to the global pandemic. With clear, colorful cartooning and a firmly authoritative but welcoming voice, Campos López sticks to the facts and the science with regard to what is understood about how viruses work as well as how they were addressed during the pandemic. While acknowledging that conspiracy theories, politics, and cultural differences have a way of obstructing science, Campos López aims to educate, not engage in debate with bad faith points of view. While an intelligent child can follow along, the science explored in this comic is certainly at a high school/adult level, with visual breakdowns of fairly complex principles of organic chemistry and biology. The comic is designed to follow a series of bite-size question-and-answer sequences, starting with the big question regarding COVID, backing up to explain viruses in general terms, and then circling back around to the central idea. The one problem with this ambitious example of applied cartooning is that it badly needed line edits, as there are multiple typos and errors throughout. I imagine this will be corrected for future editions. 

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