Thursday, 14 November 2013

Comics Carousel: cool, cool cats

Reviews! Or something approaching them... As ever, click on pictures to enbiggen, and click on bolded titles to lead you to places where you can buy said publications.

Dead Cats of Plum Street part one by Isaac Lenkiewicz: Lenkiewicz is one of the few cartoonists whose work I will buy sight unseen; I don't need to know what it's about, if it's new and it has his name on it I'm there. So I was pretty excited when he released a new mini-comic around Halloween time, although I'll admit to looking slightly askance at the title and wishing it wasn't, well, too Halloween-y. But no fear. Dead Cats of Plum Street is an absurdly pleasing comic, simply because of the way everything fits and works together so well. The plot follows 3 rad young girls, (who may or may not have something of the supernatural about them) Balene, Twig and Murray, as they try to decide upon a course of action to take in solving a spooky problem: the girls have been waking up in the might to see apparitions of their long dead cats hovering over them, possibly in an attempt to communicate an urgent message (or perhaps not). 

Now, I'm not saying this is the greatest comic or story written, but the thing that Lenkiewicz does to near perfection is produce comics that work beautifully as a cogent whole; the art, the dialogue, the characters, the tone, the narrative all align seamlessly to present a comic that's satisfying and entertaining and bloody pretty. One of the elements I like about his work is that his art seems to take on the tone of his story and writing and then cyclically exudes that back into the story; he doesn't alter his art style, even though the brushes in Giant Fighters, for example, are much bolder and thicker, where here they're so fine-lined I initially thought they were a pen, but they feed into the atmosphere and mood of the narrative and characters- the gnarly, oafy, goofiness of Giant Fighters, the faux-parablic, fairytale elements of Jonah, the ethereal, surrealness of Broadbright, and the zippy characterisation that defines Dead Cats.

It's a fairly short comic, but Lenkiewicz manages to give each girl an individual and distinct personality through their speech and interactions, shoring that up through the illustration, through clothes and mannerisms; Balene's barely controlled mane of curls tied in 2 ponytails and constant movement, Twig's reluctance and hoodie which reamins stoically up, Murray's black bob and generous nose, her actions and placement suggesting her role as intermediary between the two. Despite my affection for motion lines, I love that Lenkiewicz decided to depict flurries of movement and emphasis via the old school technique of depicting the same object multiple times, like frames in animation, to quite figuratively 'animate' it, so in the page below we get 4 right arms as Balene punches and jabs the air. He uses that to again further underpin characetrisation; Balene's bravado and confidence, and the two Murray's as she looks at both her friends simultaneously  reassuring them and verifiying their reactions. Still talking little touches, the inky matter from which the spectral cats manifest and the globs of it hovering in residue, the parallel face on floating heads, the opening establishing panels of the Plum Street sign, all really deftly done.

I know some people say reviews shouldn't tell people to buy a book or not, but fuck that. I read reviews for critcism, yes, but criticism that will help me decide whether I will like this thing about which I am reading and thus whether to consume it. You should buy Dead Cats- not only is it a bargain at £2.50, but from lettering to goofy humour and intrigue, it's a delight. I always feel  a bit awful and demanding in saying so-and-so should churn out more comics, but man, I wish Lenkiewicz made more comics- he's so good and they're such a joy to read and experience. Here's hoping we get the next installment of this soon.

Borrowed Tails by Ines Estrada from kus!: I'm still amazed by comic creators who can encompass so much in short comics, who manage to make the work substantial, and Estrada's definitiely amongst them. This collection is only 26 pages long, packing in 5 short stories, a pin-up and a strip on the back cover,  The brief form mirrors the episodic nature of Estarada's traverses into the imagined, the psychological tangents and day-dreams: an outcast girl with an intense stink, sexually unfulfilled ghosts who can move on after fulfilling someone else, hacker teens looking to get rich.

The opening story, Beeing (available to read for free here), in which the Estrada persona gets stung by a bee and transforms and reforms, her body morphing into the weird and grotesque and back again, is the lengthiest and meatiest, showcasing her talent for veering into the strange, a facet to which her art is uniquely suited.

There's something special about Estrada's art; the scans below, unfortunately, dilute the effect considerably, but her colours are amazing- bright translucent water-colours, that sit and run into each other to vivid effect. It has something- an intangible quality- a luminosity that makes it gleam and pulsate with life (as affected as that may sound). Look at the cover on the left, for example, the reds, oranges and yellows of the hair and the green that offsets the eyes. It's truly beautiful in an uncoventional, non-traditional way- almost a little feral, really. She doesn't use solid blocks colours much, generally blending a tie-dye mixture of shades, bold yet harmonious, which I'm predictably going to refer to as trippy and psychedelic, which although they're not always, they are here, a theme that runs parallel to the short fantasised pseudo memories and dream-like re-tellings. I cannot imagine that her work would be anywhere near as powerful in black and white.

Bukkake by Pedro Franz: This is the second of the Projeto Mil comics I bought from the fab Impoosible Books- the first being Bebe Gigante. Projeto Mil was conceived by Brazilian  micro press, Cachalote, with the aim of  creating a series of silent comics that would provide participating artists with an opportunity for experimentation, to test new narrative structures solely   through the use of images. Each comic is by a different artist, with production limited to 300 copies, is A4 in size, and printed on different coloured paper,  a colour that usually connotes with the story in some way.

Does it make me incredibly naive if I wasn't aware of the definition of bukkake prior to being introduced to Pedro Franz's comic? For the similarly uninitiated, bukkake is a sex act generally portrayed in pornographic films (and, one would imagine, in real life), in which several men ejaculate on a woman, or another man. It originated in Japan apparently and spread to North America and Europe,before crossing over into gay pornography and wider consciousness. This reminds me of the time I innocently Googled 'dot eyes' in search for any specialist term when referring to the traditionally ligne claire practice. It did actually provide me with a specialist term, just not the one I was after.

Bukkake, the comic sees a group of children (anatomy suggests young teens) camping out in the woods. It's night there's a fire, they're playing a game which involves putting masks on. A girl and boy wander into a clearing, naked and start fondling each other, to rather humorous effect. It's pretty clear this is new to both, and as such it's devoid of any actual erotica, Franz instead portraying a sense of curiosity and exploration, clumsy and eager. Unfortunately, the pair are disturbed by a grotesque, lumbering beast with vast droopy tits and a large, salacious mouth embedded in it's stomach. This monster is a visual representation signifying the specter of sin and guilt, which luckily, the teens are having none of. The boy, bless him, is rather taken aback, but the girl realises what has to be done and readies him appropriately. Which all leads to perhaps one of the greatest and quite literal splash pages I've seen, with a veritable magical rainbow explosion of ejaculation shooting off in all directions -and most importantly on the beast whom it poisons. The best thing during all this is the boy's dopey, clueless expression.

There's a few aspects to Franz's narrative- the coming of age, sexual discovery, and it also seems to be dismissive of the need to protect children from sexual awareness/knowledge, and a treatise against the dangers of imbuing a fear of sex and the ignorance that that lack of knowledge can bring. As open as he is with his subject matter, he couches it in exaggeration  and humour further neutralising it somewhat by introducing the spiritual and monstrous. Ultimately it's the kids who take charge and defeat the monster which they're able to do because they use what they know against it. Responsibility lies in the guidance and education of your children. And then maybe a little trust and faith. Anything beyond that point is their own bloody fault. I liked the choice of the ominous purple paper, and while ti adds atmosphere, it doesn't do Franz's gorgeous art much favours- he deserved something that the blacks bounced off better.

The Wild One by Laila Milevski: The Wild One sees school-girl Camila finishing her day, making her way home where she's accosted by the resident old weirdo woman with whom she wanders off into the jungle with. Even weirder happenings occur within the jungle, where it turns out the old lady may, or may not, also be a jaguar. The conversation turns, as these things are want to do, to blood sacrifices and the like and Camila sensibly decides her return home is long overdue and scarpers sharpish. But then the old lady is found dead, and Camila feels something must be done...

Milevski gets off to a very good start with this, introducing her characters, her narrative, the points of interest, but the pacing feels off, and sections of the book suffer from being overly long.  There are almost 5 acts here: Camila and woman meet, strange occurrences in the jungle, Camila at home, Camila's return to the jungle, Camila returns home part deux. While these can't be definitively separated, at least 2 of these would benefit from being edited and put together, particularly the middle section in which Camila ruminates on a course of action, which sags.

The resolution, too, feels very quick, after all that has come previously and at a slight disconnect to preceding events. The idea's there, you can see what Milevski's aiming for- a folk tale that plays on myth, lore, superstition and ties that to alienation and being different- but the execution doesn't quite work, the story doesn't feels like it's going where it ends up, and not quite in a positive 'I didn't necessarily see that coming, but yes, good' way, more that the elements that are introduced and pass in the duration of the story don't connect as cohesively, largely due to the extraneous flabby bits. In a strange way the uneven stilted-ness does add to the odd, unnatural tone of the tale; where a seamless flow makes for an untroubled reading experience, the relative 'choppiness' here plays into the unsettling tone of the narrative .

What I did really enjoy in The Wild One was Milevski's art, her drawings have a simple charm- the houses, the trees, the range of expressions  she gives Camila are wonderful, achieved by small changes that alter her whole face and what it's conveying: tiny upturned lines under her eyes, dot eyes, blank circle eyes, a button nose, an elongated striped nose. As simple as it may sound, it's not put into effect often enough, so it's gratifying to see it done so well.

Frontier #2 by Hellen Jo from Youth in Decline: I don't usually pick up books which are pin-ups or full page-images, but: Hellen Jo. Let me tell you: nobody is cooler than Hellen Jo. If you don't like Hellen Jo's paintings, I'm not really sure I understand you. I'm just going to put full blown pictures of Hellen Jo's art to indicate that point, and because anything less would be an injustice.

Frontier is a series of Jo's paintings set in a similar world/verse to here comic Jin and Jam, featuring ladies who appropriate trashiness, animal print and big hair to new levels of funkiness. And to think, in England we have chavs. Sigh. Often things that are termed 'cool' lack any additional emotional resonance, possessing a superficially attractive or appealingly louche quality, which is present here, as well as a continuation of 'bad/rebellious as cool' theme. Something as obvious as 'fucking cool girls smoking and being bad and shit' shouldn't really work, but Jo is a mammoth talent and she imbues her illustrations with a greater depth than that description lends.

I'm sort of loath to point out 'hey- ladies- non-white ladies!' but it's just so rare that you find a representation of female collectives in wider culture -pop groups aside- and Jo's girls are the complete opposite of those carefully manufactured and cultivated personas- unapologetically individual and rebellious, fighting, kniving, smoking, lounging,  getting arrested, and generally busy being people.

This image below is one of my absolute favourites; look at the way the girl's fringe intersects her sunglasses, the corresponding pops of red of the shirt stripes and frames, the creases in the clothes, the hair that looks like spaghetti, the blue/green triangle patterned background- all of it, all of it is wowzers. Sickeningly talented, that woman. Clone her or something.

(last image not taken from Frontier, but I put it in because HELLEN JO)

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