Tuesday, December 5, 2023

45 Days Of CCS, #5: Dylan Sparks and Sage Clemmons

Dylan Sparks is a 2024 CCS student whose cartooning occupies the space between love and horror. In particular, their comic Echoed Embrace focuses on body trauma that makes it nearly impossible for the unnamed protagonist to relax and settle into having sex with someone they truly desire. The way Sparks went about this is truly clever. Each attempt at intimacy starts off well, until their being touched summons the physical memory of the hand of a previous abuser/assailant. The protagonist is in black & white, their lover is in pink, and the many disembodied hands from their memories are dark red. Every attempt fails, because when things start to get more intimate and intense, so too does the memory of being held down, squeezed, and even choked. At each failure point, the fantasy respawns like a video game, as the protagonist tries again and again. It's not until the protagonist confronts the memory in a very specific way that things turn out differently. Sparks' line is sketchy and a little rough, but their cartooning is excellent, as they smartly take the tools and tropes of video games and apply them to PTSD. The frustrations and desires expressed are told in an achingly vulnerable but entirely no-nonsense way. 

Tryst is a fantasy story that nonetheless has a lot of similar elements to Echoed Embrace. While it's about a dragon woman who's captured by sadistic men, it's also at heart about a relationship. When the dragon woman's boyfriend shows up, she breaks out of her bonds and brutally kills her captors, all in an effort to show off. However, the narrative follows the boyfriend's thought processes, as he wonders after seeing that she was injured when a captor slapped her if what value he had if he couldn't protect her. It was a perfect moment of male fragility and ego, projecting his own insecurities on her. He does manage to catch himself in the end, but the reversal of gender expectations and roles is clever. The use of what appears to be crayon adds to the fantastical quality of the comic, as crayon tends to make exaggerating the visceral qualities of color much easier. 

Sage Clemmons' Everyone Is Sorry is done in gorgeous green colored pencil. A publication from Parsifal Press (Daryl Seitchik & Dan Nott's new press), this isn't so much a narrative as much as it is a meditation on remorse and what being "sorry" means. It's a sort of comics version of a  tone poem, where on each page, a different person expresses being sorry in a deliberate, downcast manner. There's a tongue-in-cheek quality to the comic as well, like when it's stated that "Your professors are sorry" and on the next page it says, "(very sorry)." It gets more and more abstract, as even tenderness and laughter are sorry. The final image, of a hand offering up a handkerchief, is another hint as to the mix of humor and absurdity with the central, grave concept. Is being sorry feeling remorse? Is it a willingness to offer reparations? Is it grief? Is it self-serving? Clemmons offers no answers, other than going back and reading it again, and enjoying their excellent, naturalistic cartooning.  

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