Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Comics From SAW, 2016: Part 1

Last year at SPX, I picked up a number of comics from the latest group of students from the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW), in Gainesville, Florida. This is, of course, Tom Hart's school that takes the principles of the pedagogy he's been developing for years and puts it into a different structure. After years of teaching at the School For Visual Arts (SVA), he wanted a chance to teach comics in an affordable city and at an affordable price. The school has no formal accreditation, which is really to say that those who chose to attend are doing it because they want to learn about comics first and foremost and aren't interested in getting the degree that would allow them to formally teach. Hart's faculty are excellent, the guest faculty and lecturers stack up against anyone in the country, and the students bond in the same way small programs like the Center for Cartoon Studies do. The school accepts interested students with a wide variety of experience and ability, so I thought it would be interesting to check in after my three years ago.

Ouroboros, by Roxanne Palmer. Referring to the snake eating its own tail, this mini is a meditation on anger and its positive and negative qualities. Palmer makes great use of a Risograph here, juxtaposing the blue ink of a figure with the red ink (and zip-a-tone) of a monstrous, snake-filled version of the same person. It's a brief story about trying to release anger, finding that something about this process doesn't work, and then realizing that if used right, anger can be a source of power. All along, Palmer uses that red/blue contrast as the figure takes the snake and devours it for a positive purpose. There are also story fragments including a dream of being at a huge new Confederate memorial as well as a man talking matter-of-factly about receiving calls from the Andromeda galaxy. Palmer has an effectively ragged and thin line ala CF, and it works well for her storytelling.

No Cops, by Alisha Rae. This is an intense, raw and no frills account of being jailed after protesting the nth iteration of police brutality in this country; in this case, Baton Rouge. What was interesting about her take on these sorts of protests is that in addition to being a first person account, she chose to not depict any riot police, SWAT members or prison correctional officers. Other than a fiendishly grinning cop in a helmet on the cover for contrast, Rae instead focuses on the other women who were arrested alongside her. This is a story about being pushed around the cops only up to a point, but it quickly transforms into a story of camaraderie and the sharing of an intense experience that brings people together. That it was done in the name of social justice made those bonds all the more intense. It's also a very instructive, moment-by-moment account of what it's like to be thrown to the ground, bound, arrested and then taken to jail. Rae wisely lets the events speak for themselves as much as possible. She let the dialogue she recalled fly around the page, reflecting the nature of being in a room with a lot of people, yet she nicely captured the uncertainty, fear and steely resolution of the protesters. Her line may be crude, but there's an immediacy to it that lends it a great deal of power.

Mysteries, by Sally Cantirino. Cantirino always brings an intense amount of detail to her work, This mini is a fascinating account not just of the rise of an indy-rock band and its growing cult following (and followers), it's also a meditation on time, creativity, and the power of playing & listening to music as a kind of magic. Cantirino brings a stylish kind of naturalism to the page that heavily emphasizes spotting blacks as a way of getting across the atmosphere of small club gigs and the night culture surrounding the band. Cantirino teases that connection between magic and music at the very beginning of the story ("A song as a spell.") She then plants the seed of the whacked-out ending in an interview with the lead singer of the band that's the subject of the comic (Magnets and the Sun). He talks about the vagueness of parts of his lyrics, how he doesn't quite know where some of his ideas come from and how he has a sense of wanting to be remembered that is different from fame. Cantirino then follows the narrative throughline with a group of fans waiting in line and then back to the show itself, which closes a series of time loops in an entirely satisfying way. Cantirino has a knack for magical realism that's entirely grounded in naturalism, making it all the more surprising when it does appear.

The Devil and the Deep Blue SeaAdrift and The Burden, by Miguel Yurrita. Yurrita did a number of formally interesting things in these comics. There were times where he didn't quite stick the landing in terms of being clever and coherent, but they are fascinating experiments nonetheless. One of Yurrita's interesting tricks is flipping the "camera" placement in a given panel. In The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea/Adrift, for example, is a flip book where you read only the right-hand side of a given two-page set. The first page sees a woman trying to flag down a ship, sinking below the waves and fighting a monstrous worm, only to meet her doom. Flip the book upside down and start again, and this time the narrative starts with her drowning, then fighting the worm, and then rising to the surface. It's a simple conceit, executed with precision. It would have been worked better as an accordion-style book where we couldn't see the left-hand-side pages, but once I got the gist of the book's rhythms, it all made sense.

The Burden is a looping story about consciousness that has a running conversation between either two beings or two aspects of consciousness existing simultaneously, one speaking English and the other Spanish. Starting from a pair of circles that look like eyes and/or part of a circuit board, the text circles and swirls above and around the images until they decide to create together. They take the form of cartoon characters, animals and various other forms of popular culture, which I found interesting as it suggested they had access either to a database or the collective unconscious, or both. After debating the meaning or lack of meaning of creation, destruction and mortality in general, the "higher self" and "lower self" (as they are introduced) flip languages and revert back to their original states, presumably to start the cycle again. Some of the drawing in this comic is a bit on the wobbly side, as Yurrita kind of went berserk in drawing a bunch of popular characters. It distracted from the overall narrative at times and the joke got old quickly. Still, the role of consciousness, agency and creativity as they all relate to each other made for a fascinating topic.

No comments:

Post a Comment