Monday, February 26, 2024

Pyrite Press, Part 1: Vinnie Neuberg, Haejin Park, Rachel Katz & Stephanie Davidson

Pyrite Press is Brice Gold's publishing concern. I don't think it's currently active in publishing new books, but I did meet Brice at CAKE last year and picked up several books. Part 1 of this review will include three shorter comics, while part 2 will focus in on K.Wroten's book Crimes

Fowl Weather, by Rachel Katz and Stepanie Davidson. What I found interesting about Pyrite Press is that no two books were alike in terms of style or subject matter. This short comic done by a writer-artist team was equal parts meditative and absurd, with Davidson's assured pen-and-ink drawings employing a great deal of negative space. This makes sense, given that the story follows a couple being kept indoors by a massive Boston snowstorm. Davidson's line is spare and elegant, perhaps relying on greyscale shading a bit too much at times. However, she was up to the task of giving punch to the most important visual aspect of the story: a flock of wild turkeys showed up out of nowhere. The main character is fascinated but also somewhat repulsed by them. Mostly, she's baffled at their presence in her life, as they came by every day, pecking the frozen ground. There's a beautiful two-page spread where she manages to watch them launch themselves into the trees next door to sleep, where the many small panels are mostly in black, reflecting the dimming light of the day. 

When the snow subsides, the turkeys go elsewhere. There's no big climax or any attempts to dig into what it all means. Instead, Katz shows a great deal of restraint as a writer and mostly keeps to the observations, with subtle but distinct instances of her comfort indoors vs the turkeys' hardscrabble existence. It culminates in her fantasizing about being outside, pecked to death by the turkeys. The other interesting aspect of the narrative is interrogating her relationship with weather and the environment in general. Even as a Bostonian, with difficult winters, this was out of the norm. All of the old rules seemed irrelevant and alien, as the turkeys seemed to be living in a reality different from hers, and she didn't quite know how to feel about it. Doing nothing is still doing something, and so the reader is left with the narrator's sense of unease, openly defying the idea of a neat or dramatic ending. 

Chicken Boy, by Vinnie Neuberg. This looks a lot like a NoBrow/Flying Eye type kids' book, with a bright orange and blue palette and an absurd, over-the-top story that changes directions every few pages. It starts off with the titular CB getting up and being urged on by everyone, and then arriving at the local sludgeball field to face bullies. Then an evil factory owner shows up and causes a sludgy rain that ruins their next game. CB goes to confront him, only to find his bully enemy imprisoned there, his life force being siphoned to create an army of Chicken Boy clones. Things really go off the rails then, as the evil factory owner powers up to giant size, CB draws power from an angel he hallucinates, and there's a kaiju fight that CB wins. It's all a bunch of whimsical nonsense that's drawn with a great deal of cartoonish exaggeration, but it all works somehow. It's very silly but quite well-executed.

Box, by Haejin Park. This wildly expressionistic and poetic narrative is a parable of sorts about the dueling tendencies toward depraved evil and self-contained purity. The narrative is from the point of view of an unnamed tempter. Whether it's the devil, a real person, or another part of her personality doesn't matter; it's there to corrupt her and have her revel in depravity. However, his potential victim is stronger than she'd like, building a box to protect herself from his temptations. Only food and bathroom breaks left her vulnerable to his voice, but he was quickly able to prey on her secret lusts and break her down. Just when he thought his corruption was complete, she ran off and made a new life. He continued to lurk, however, as it was made clear that her desire for evil was as omnipresent as her desire for good. It's an interesting story, because the essence of her resistance came in the form of self-denial, the ascetic way. She was unable to come to terms with her own desire, and the box helped her deny it in the way a monastic retreat removes temptation. He struck at her with a loving relationship, in the guise of the Big-Headed Boy, and I thought this was the most interesting part of this vividly-painted story. Where is the line between love and lust? Does it matter? For this story, the two are interchangeable enough for him to corrupt her, until she makes a total escape. In the end, it's not even clear if she's aware of her tempter, if she created him, or how effective she thinks her strategy is. Regardless, it's open-ended qualities and overall ambiguity give depth to what is on the surface a straightforward narrative.

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