Monday, June 10, 2024

CRAM, Part 5: Allee Errico's Froggie World

Allee Errico is part of a wave of young cartoonists whose roots feel more connected to the underground alt-comics scene of the late 80s and early 90s than most comics that have been published in the last 20-25 years. One of her teachers was Lauren Weinstein, and you can see that in the way that Errico has embraced using a wavy, distorted, and scribbly style. Also like Weinstein (especially in her early work), there's an anything- goes quality in how she talks about her daily life. Her first collection from CRAM, Froggie World, is a well-curated collection of diary comics revolving around four topics: Love, Angel, Music, and Bike. In the introduction, Errico notes that she started doing diary comics to keep up a daily drawing practice (as many do), but soon found they have the power "to reveal the patterns of life, the universe, etc." Through her careful selection of strips, her merging of intuitive & spontaneous cartooning with intentional storytelling, and the unique color splash that Riso printing provides, Errico produced one of the best collections of diary strips I've ever read. 

There's an intentionality behind it that gives it power and momentum. On the first page, she describes finding a diary in the trash from a hundred years ago and how it inspired her to leave something similar. In Errico's case, it's a life sharply observed. While one can see Weinstein's influence at work here, the tone and page design also remind me a lot of Vanessa Davis' early work in Spaniel Rage. The open page layouts, the languid observations of a young woman lying on a bed in her tiny New York apartment, and the bright splashes of color all evoke the same sort of searching and idealistic artist. 

Right from the get-go in the "Love" section, Errico explores both desire and the ridiculousness of sex, as there's a panel where she digs around inside her vagina for a condom that slipped off inside her and emerged bloody: "I guess I got my period." Another strip contrasts the various tuna melts she got in the new year with sex talk, including one where she says to friends (in front of her lover) that she just ordered a strap-on dildo. In the second sex talk panel, he's fingering her while blathering on about My Chemical Romance. The timing and precision of these jokes are perfect, and the loving attention paid toward illustrating the sandwiches as well as the sex helps the jokes land. 

Later strips are in black & white and have a dense wordiness that is still effective, as Errico explores being a young adult who has rarely not been in a relationship. Throughout some of the strips, the quarantine and COVID lurk, though she rarely dwells on either. Indeed, while each section is roughly in chronological order, Errico only includes the most interesting strips that focus on love, sex, loneliness, and relationships. "Angel" is just two pages, featuring what is likely an image of a deceased pet and a strip about a man who can get pigeons to come to him. 

"Music" is the longest section of the book, because it's really about how experiencing music infiltrates all other aspects of her life. Once again, she starts in 2020, but this time she talks about how music makes her feel relative to the events of her life at the time. As she's struggling at a job, seeing different people, and navigating the city, she becomes obsessed with Nine Inch Nails and then later The Ramones in the way that music can feel like the most important thing in the world and listening to certain songs on repeat feels like it can fix you. Errico effectively juxtaposes events like getting fired with her roommate texting her that a headless, limbless torso outside of her apartment. 

She engages someone demanding her time on the subway in an amusing way right after she's fired and plays "Hurt" to salve the pain. She later starts dating a woman in a metal band and worries about not being metal enough. A lot of these comics are compelling because of the rough immediacy of her storytelling. While lacking some compositional clarity and sophistication in the strips where text dominates everything, she makes up for this with the immediacy of her mark-making. Her obvious skill as a draftsman and cartoonist gives her a lot of leeway in these strips, especially with regard to the more chiaroscuro aspects of her drawing. 

Above all else, as the "Bike" section suggests, Froggie World is about the feeling of being embodied, and how Errico becomes increasingly distanced from it over time. In "Bike," she becomes obsessed with how biking makes her body feel and the overall aggressiveness that biking in New York requires, to the point where she loses interest in sex and confronts that sense of disconnection by embracing the visceral experience of riding. The fact that she listens to Black Sabbath while doing this only makes sense--loud, powerful, and intense music with confrontational lyrics. There is no resolution or solution; her last thought is simply "My body is taking me where I want to go." Errico starts to explore more surreal, Gabrielle Bell-style storytelling in this section in an amusingly self-conscious way that nonetheless still packs a punch. The fact that this comic is labeled "Vol 1" implies that she plans to continue along these lines, and my only hope is that she follows the fancy of her imagination as far as it will take her. The self-assuredness of this debut is impressive, and even when things feel rough visually or in terms of composition, her voice is so strong and compelling that the reader wants to follow where she wants to go. 

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