Wednesday, December 27, 2023

45 Days Of CCS, #27: King Ray and Michael Sweater

King Ray is a cartoonist interested in horror. At the moment this seems to be as much conceptual as anything, which I think is one reason why they chose to write about the horror writer Shirley Jackson in the comic the house was vile. Combining text, newspaper clippings, and their own haunting & sketchy art with grayscale shading, Ray combines their analysis of Jackson with an actual trip to the house that inspired the classic The Haunting Of Hill House. That this occurred after a snowstorm and with a set of footprints ahead of them indicating that they were the only ones making the pilgrimage only adds to the atmosphere. I can't get enough of Ray's ramshackle line, deadpan narrative voice, and incisive social commentary, as they freely speculate as to why Jackson didn't leave more of an impression on the community. 

Insomnia Mansion is as much Ray's take on the concept of the haunted mansion as it is a narrative featuring characters dealing with living together in a haunted house. Ray is running this as a serial on the Gutter substack, and it looks terrible online but fantastic in print. The open page layout, sketchy drawings, and extensive use of negative space just don't translate properly online, but the flow of loosely-connected vignettes makes me wish that this mini was a full-length book. Ray's character design is sharp and fully-formed, while the bizarre goings-on in the group house have as much to do with the weirdos living in it as they do the desires of the house itself. Ray's use of what appears to be crayon adds to the slightly crazed, scrawled quality of the art, as though the narrative was a sort of found object. Ray's mix of humor, horror, slice-of-life narratives, and visual surprises make this the project early in their career that really has legs. 

Michael Sweater continues to encapsulate the intersection of cute drawings and crustpunk misadventures. His latest issues of Everything Sucks are both actually tightly-plotted and benefit greatly from the structure that allows him to go deep into some hilarious character narratives. In the third issue, subtitled "Real Gamer Hours," the anti-hero protagonist Noah gets sucked into playing an ancient online video game called Runequest. It's a game with primitive graphics and dull gameplay that is somehow all-consumingly addictive. When his friend Calla checks on him because he's been playing for three straight days, she gets sucked into playing the game as well. Sweater does something clever here, where instead of seeing the primitive gameplay, he draws the action in his typical style, which makes it even funnier when Calla's Runequest character has killed dozens of rats that stack up. Their friend Brad checks in on them and also gets sucked in, leading to a funny conclusion about how one should never make assumptions about who one encounters online. As always, Sweater has nailed that cute/punk aesthetic in his character design, with his drawings of trash and detritus adding a lot to the comic's aesthetic. 

The most recent issue, subtitled "Friends Forever," is what they would call a "bottle episode" in a sitcom. That is, one where the cast is trapped in a single room for most of the duration of the episode, and much of the show revolves around their interpersonal dynamics. Many of Sweater's stories tend to be in such settings (the previous issue is no exception), but "Friends Forever" provides structure when Noah, Calla, and Brad are all trapped in a filthy bar bathroom just when a woman wants to take Noah home. Sweater doesn't skimp on the literal toilet humor, but he does so in a way that pushes things to their limit, like Calla busting into the bathroom when Noah was washing his hands, immediately sitting on the toilet, and when asked why, replies "I don't know why I do the stuff I do...My inner world is a mystery to me." Things escalate from there as the trio nearly drowns when the sink is broken. A back-up feature has Sweater pushing scatological humor even more with a different set of characters; it's brightened by Sweater's typically ultra-cute character design and over-the-top characterization. Little about Sweater's work is ever subtle, but he leans into this and batters the reader with his punk-cute aesthetic, ear for dialogue, and eye for detail. 

No comments:

Post a Comment