Tuesday, May 9, 2017
2DCloud: Sprawling Heart & Perfect Hair
Sprawling Heart, by Sab Meynert. 2dcloud has never been afraid to publish books that don't neatly fit into categories, and Meynert's book is no exception. I believe it's best described as an illustrated prayer and invocation for healing. The lush illustrations, including delicate pencil drawings, elaborate design work and vibrant use of color, give the eye something powerful to work with when paired against the relatively spare use of text. The prayer is about staying open, staying aware, looking for help and looking for connections. There's a repeating visual motif of flowering amidst an open hand, representing perhaps that it's important to understand how to be open to the things life can offer you, that one's mental state is key to accepting or not accepting what life has to offer, in all of its incarnations. The comic is all about flow, fluidity and water's paradox in being droplets and a wave all at once. That metaphor is used to explain our position relative to others: we are all water, whether we realize it or not, and we can either flow or resist--but the river will always keep moving.
Perfect Hair, by Tommi Parrish. This is an audacious debut by Parrish. It's interesting that Dash Shaw offered up a blurb, because among the many influences that Parrish cycled through in the course of this book, Shaw was the most significant. The layout, the use of diagramatic text, the use of textual onomatopoeia in place of more typical sounds effects, and simple line are all there--except when they're not. Eleanor Davis is another obvious influence, and there may be hints of Gary Panter, Chris Ware and many others. What's remarkable is the way they are able to dial in and out of a particular visual style, often in the middle of a story. In "Train Scene", Parrish begins with a naturalistic color setting at the station, then switches to a pencils-only page, and then to the big, blobby character design they use for much of the book. In other words, the "real" image, the self-image, and the way she looks at others. The result is a style for Parrish that becomes uniquely theirs, whipping the reader from narrative fragment to narrative fragment while still retaining a cohesive set of character profiles.
This book is a short, punchy series of vignettes about gender identity, sexual identity and its boundaries, isolation and alienation. In particular, it's about the feeling of being embodied and being alienated from one's body. The two leads (and as it is implied, lovers) Nicola and Cleary, each experience these feelings in their own way. Nicola is a bespectacled sex worker and artist who is at once settled in her life but also has trouble accepting the narrative put upon her as a constantly objectified sex object. There's a remarkable scene where she is hearing the narrative of a guy trying to run his patter on her. She pops off her breasts and then eventually pulls herself out of her body, leaving behind the colored form of her skin to reveal a stick figure, walking away. Later, Nicola encounters another familiar John trope: the white knight. He wants her to act like she's in love with him, and then later says he can "save" her from "all this" because he has money and wants to make her his wife for real. (Hilariously, she replies, "This what? This conversation?")
Meanwhile, Cleary (named for Beverly Cleary, perhaps?) is the cool Nicola's opposite. She goes to what appears to be a kind of fetish club and panics when a man doesn't so much frighten her with his desire, but rather puts her off as he begs her for validation of his existence. In fact, the player, the white knight and the man in the club all rely on the women in the book to validate their existences in one way or another. Cleary's reaction was to have a panic attack, but she also had learned how to control them with breathing exercises, a key point that illustrates the ways in which both Nicole and Cleary have found ways to navigate and even control their environments. When a doctor later mistakes Cleary for a boy, she doesn't mind. This touches on an earlier story where the characters aren't named and the figures look different, but it is clearly Nicola and Cleary's story and personal backstories, one of which refers to Cleary eventually coming out as trans. The way Parrish loops the reader in and out of these narratives rewards multiple readings, as the connections become clearer and the sheer craft setting up subtle signals is remarkable. Parrish's use of color is frequently sublime, evoking emotion while still staying true to the figures. This is a remarkably ambitious novella that hits every emotional beat while employing an array of narrative tricks that are more than just formal pyrotechnics.