Thursday, November 16, 2017

Catching Up With Liz Suburbia

Liz Suburbia's Cyanide Milkshake is perhaps my favorite one-person anthology minicomic of the past several years. Throwing in a serial, autobio stuff, jokes, and other assorted weirdness, she always stuffs each issue full of viscerally enjoyable entertainment. With the eighth issue, she has decided to close it down (as of late 2016) and move on. The issue explains some of those reasons, but let's look at a couple of other side-projects first.

Teen Dream Tragedy was a quickly scrawled out mini about the passion of Britney Spears, roughly speaking. On the back cover, Suburbia claims she drew this in 28 minutes and I can sort of believe that, given how she seems to be drawing from a few internet reference photos and takes it from there. Lots of text is crossed out in a move that looks deliberate, not a series of mistakes, as Suburbia is using sous rature as a method of exploring the transition between her traditional lyrical style and something far darker. The final revelation of a knife falling down from the heavens, its eventual (but unknown) use and its final disposal turns this into a story about striking out against the hierarchical forces arrayed against her own sense of agency.

What A Dog Wears is a perfect, goofy delight, demonstrating costume after increasingly absurd costume a individual can wear in order to help with "struggling w/articulating yr personal style". This mini is just a chance for Suburbia to joyfully goof off and draw fun and funny things for twenty or so pages. It starts to get really ridiculous with "SK8 Sandwich", which is two skateboards, one in front and one in back. "The Blood of Mine Enemies" (cheerfully subtitled "Goes with everything!") is a dense, disturbing image, matched only by "Apex Predator", which is a person with a shark out of water devouring most of their body. Funniest of all is the truly unnerving "A Mascot Suit Of Yourself", complete with two eye peering out behind the "mouth" of the mascot. Suburbia has formidable cartooning and drawing skills, but it was nice to see the illustration part of her drawing take center stage with these concepts.

Cyanide Milkshake #8 is an extremely revealing but also very silly comic, and that's a dynamic that sums up Suburbia nicely. She did a flip book in the bottom right hand corner of each page of Batman licking himself in a sensitive area like a cat. She talked about shoplifting groceries from a nearby market and laments how expensive the mustard she once stole was. There's just gag after gag on some pages, like the buttons on Jughead's hat (him fucking a burger, of course), wearing her partner's face at his funeral, a joking-not-joking bit about wanting to do watersports, etc. Then in "No Identity", she gets serious, revealing that pushing herself to finish her book Sacred Heart broke her, as her lack of self-care produced depression and severe anhedonia. It got to the point that the thought of making comics was upsetting to her, and she preferred to live life for a while pursuing the most basic, visceral experiences: eating, sleeping, exercising and having sex. The end of the story had no end, other than hesitant attempts to get back in the game (like this) that were still limited, as she chose to end the series with this issue. There's one last ode to her dogs and the wrap-up of her dimension-travelling zombie story that ends with a glorious deus ex machina. Suburbia really does give her reader a lot to chew on, especially in terms of comedy, and in her own way, Cyanide Milkshake was sort of her version of Love and Rockets. There's the angle of serialized stories, a mutual love of Archie comics, strange one-offs and a punk attitude, only Suburbia's comics are even more personal in some ways. To put a finer point on it, she allowed herself to do whatever she wanted--no rules, no restrictions--and she blossomed as a cartoonist with the freedom she gave herself to experiment. The series will be collected at some point soon, but I'm hoping she's able to return to the sequel to Sacred Heart in due time.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

NBM: Satania, by Kerascoet & Fabien Vehlmann

With regard to the French husband-wife creative team Kerascoet (Marie Pommepuy & Sebastien Cosset), their subject matter seems to be uniformly grim and perverse whether they're working with writing collaborators Hubert or Fabien Vehlmann. In their latest release in English, Satania, they are back with Vehlmann after their supremely creepy collaboration, Beautiful Darkness. It's not just that their comics are filled with visceral and frequently unsettling violence; in many of their comics, each page is a fight for basic survival for each of the characters, and the odds are stacked against them. Each of their books also tends to center around a quasi-innocent young woman who turns out to be tough as nails, as she fends off the dangers of her environment as well as a long line of men who threaten them sexually. The other commonality is that Kerascoet's command of color produces pure eye candy. Their line is cartoony, almost ranging into classic Gallic bigfoot style. That said, it's color that dominates every page, sometimes almost entirely overwhelming line.

 
Satania begins with two pages of near-darkness underground, until we meet a spelunking priest whose goal was to find a party that foolishly set out in dangerous caves. That party includes a scientist named Lavergne and the sister of an explorer who had disappeared in the caves. She's a redhead nicknamed Charlie, and she's the prototypical spunky Kerascoet hero who's in way over her head but finds a way to persist. She's in search of her brother, who has theorized that hell is a real place, only it has a scientific explanation: an offshoot of humanity found a way to live deep in the bowels of the earth. After a flood comes that wipes out half the party and takes away most of their supplies, the result is a story that's part Jules Verne's A Journey To The Center Of The Earth and part Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. A key character in the book is a hallucination: Charlie and Christopher's mother. As it turns out, she claimed to have been raped by a demon, which led Christopher to his wild theories about an underground civilization of creatures that looked like demons. Charlie knew that the truth was far more prosaic (a drunk, red-headed farmer at a party), but it turned out that Christopher accidentally stumbled on the truth. The party, whose composition with a doubting priest and a scientist burning with belief made it a walking but highly unusual debate, encountered all sorts of bizarre sights. There was a man-made utopia not too far under the ground called Ultimate Thule that an insane member of the party destroys; said member naturally turns rapacious toward Charlie when he reasons that he will be going to paradise so that his actions now have no further consequences. There was the appearance of what seemed to be actual demons, which led the remaining members of a party on a long and perilous chase. There were extremes of heat and cold, tornadoes, razor-sharp ice cities, oceans of magma, roots suspended from vaulted ceilings, and giant sloth-like creatures that one could hitch a ride on. The book is a relentless visual feast of crazy action sequences that never allow the characters or reader more than a moment of rest before the status quo changes. Things really start to get interesting once the breathless pace of the book eases and Charlie (whose black dot eyes along with the red hair make her a ringer for Little Orphan Annie) finds evidence that Christopher is still alive. When the priest and Charlie finally find what seems to be a secure location, she encounters a demon whose horn she had partially lopped off earlier in the book--only the creature is not only attracted to her, he's submissive to her and enjoys being hit. By this point, Charlie's half-naked and she's turned on by the beast and has sex with him. That only intensifies the guilty hallucinations of her mother, who taunts her for actually having sex with a demon. This is the beginning of the complete breakdown in structure with the characters, as the priest imprisons them, believing that it wasn't safe to leave. He had created his own little utopia, a running theme in the book as every time a character believes they've managed to achieve this, it gets smashed to bits. The end of the book brings up certain moral issues not unlike Conrad's. When they finally find Christopher, it's slowly revealed that being in this environment has revealed him for what he truly is: a monstrous, selfish manipulator. Unlike Conrad, that transformation becomes literal in a series of horrifying pages that Charlie barely survives. Christopher never has a "the horror, the horror" moment; instead, he falls into that abyss that he gazed into in a figurative and literal sense. The world of Satania is a sentient but completely amoral ecosystem that exists to move, thrash around and destroy, but the obvious point that Vehlmann and Kerascoet make is that it's really not that much different from the surface world. Or rather, it's a difference of degree and not kind, but in neither case is it to be lauded as something utopian. That's really punched home with the final pages, where getting back to the surface is less a matter of returning to civilization than it is making a choice between two different worlds with different rules regarding cultural mores but surprisingly similar rules regarding survival. Unlike Beautiful Darkness, whose ending seems happy at first but is actually horrific upon further contemplation, the ending of this book isn't so much happy as it is an acknowledgment that we ultimately are responsible for our own choices, and it's that agency that Charlie relies upon throughout the book that saves her. She's the only character uninfected by cold science or fervid beliefs that negate humanity; she has the flexibility of her brother with regard to adapting to her environment without his evangelical embrace of the id-ruled nihilism that Satania represents. That fits neatly into Kerascoet and their collaborators writing books about violence, horror and deviancy that wind up finding the conventions and authorities of society every bit as monstrous and dangerous. The ending of Beautiful Darkness is horrible not because the main character found a "home" with the giant, but rather because this conventional love she felt was for a person who had killed her host. In Satania, it's Charlie's flexibility and unflappability that allow her to overcome both the physical and philosophical dangers she's presented with.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

mini-Kus!: Niewiadomski, Koch, Bulling/Hoffmann


mini-Kus! #59: Share The Love, by Paula Bulling & Nina Hoffmann. This is an unusual mini in that the central characters (Philip and Simone) are represented differently in different segments of the comic. Initially, they are barely sketched-characters with a yellow wash, a man and a woman in a Berlin bar being amusingly harangued by a local who gives them all sorts of unsolicited advice and opinions. The second segment finds them at dinner, this time drawn as anthropomorphic animals, with Simone throwing all sorts of hints at Philip that she'd like to be in a physical relationship with him and him managing to deflect them all (resulting in a hilarious head slap onto the table by Simone). The third segment finds them in bed together, as Simone is trying to negotiate the possibility of sex from someone who's obviously become attached to, and vice-versa, and then switches to Simone at a nude beach with Philip's daughter.

In addition to being a fascinating visual survey that uses its images to reflect the mood of each scene (the funny animal scene reflects the goofy nature of their interaction in the bar, for example), there's a remarkable frankness in the way the comic explores the nature of relationships removed from the romantic ideal that a first marriage brings. Philip celebrates that he no longer is programmed to remember what his ex-wife is wearing when he sees her to exchange custody of their kids, while Simone is hoping for precisely that kind of connection. The final segment sees Simone in that odd maternal/friend role with Philip's child, a different and budding kind of love relationship.


mini-Kus! #61: Daughter, by Aidan Koch. Koch is well known for her use of erasure and a thin line in many of her comics that border on the abstract, but this is a straight-ahead narrative in many ways. Nonetheless, the ever-innovative Koch uses color in a fascinating manner, as a kind of counter to the dull, blue-gray wash of everyday existence in a space satellite colony. In the story, a young girl feels compelled to draw, in the most vivid of colors, things like flowers, insects, trees, and animals. These are things she has never seen, yet she feels divinely inspired to record them. It's as though the collected unconscious of humanity was working through her as a kind of not just playback system, but an interactive studio of creativity. She is discouraged in this endeavor by one of many humans who are all clearly made to look as alike as possible, but the shimmering visions never leave her mind. She can't help but see them in her mind's eye, and Koch draws page after page of subtly gorgeous colors encapsulating familiar forms.

The end of the story presents an opportunity to explore the world outside the satellite, a journey that the protagonist will surely not turn down. There's a luxurious quality to the book's pacing, as there's little in the way in terms of plot or exposition and a number of pages that focus on this vision that is worthwhile to the girl simply because she believes that god is showing it to her. It's a question of aesthetic beliefs over utilitarian needs, and her aesthetics are so finely honed that it becomes her source of psychological and emotional well-being. Being given a chance to put that to the test in a utilitarian environment is both an exciting opportunity as well as opening up the possibility of losing her connection to the beauty of her connection.


mini-Kus! #62: Jonah 2017, by Tomasz Niewiadomski. As noted on the back cover, this trippy story is loosely based on the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale. There's a magical undersea kingdom where some fish are played like harps, octopuses and crayfish wonder after robots with hourglasses that measure time and death, and cat-women & hawk-women stand guard. All of that is threatened by some scuba divers looking for the source of some magical disturbance. After multiple dives, the diver discovers a factory producing "harmful sugar cubes of time" that he destroys. Whether or not the diver's mission is in fact beneficial or malignant is unclear; what it is made obvious is that he slaughtered a whole bunch of sea creatures, then flew away to outer space for his next mission. There are a whole lot of funny images and sequences involving the undersea cast of characters, but it's ultimately an unsettling story, as though it were told by a four-year-old who constantly shifted the narrative and abandoned it altogether after blowing it up. It's a story about the destructive potential of storytelling and how capricious it is, rendered in a style that mixes naturalism and the occasional highly cartoony image.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Minis From Holly Simple


Let's take at some recent mini-comics from Holly Simple. Killing Carrot Top is pretty self-explanatory, as Simple has a fantasy scenario where she's working a show for the infamous body-building prop comedian who's wearing a speedo that doesn't contain his genitalia at all. In a style and color scheme not unlike Meghan Turbitt's craziest comics, Simple can no longer tolerate the worship he received, especially from extremely sexually willing female fans. Her prayers are literally answered by a divine being who hands her a blade that she uses to slice and dice him in the most visceral but cartoonish manner possible. Just at the peak moment of her triumph, she sees that the cross around his neck has suddenly taken on his facial features: she's turned Carrot Top into Jesus! It's a hilarious twist ending worthy of an especially deranged EC horror comic. The comic works because Carrot Top has become such a bizarre figure who was a hacky comedian to begin with.

Simple's comics often have perfectly benign premises that somehow wind up in limb-rending violence. Take Serenity Retreat, for instance. Simple's powerful sense of design bonks the reader over the head with her over-the-top sensory experiences of going on a nature hike and smelling Smores being made at a campfire. In her frenzy to cool off the metal blade she's used to make her marshmallow/chocolate treat, she accidentally manages to cut everyone else around the campfire to ribbons. The huge and unsettling nostril image she used throughout the comic (to convey the delicious smell of the Smores) was suddenly filled with the charnel stench of the burning, dead bodies cooking at the campfire. Simple accidentally becomes the Smores Grim Reaper, another moment of realization that horrifies her as much as the Carrot Top revelation in the other comic.

Finally, How Many Calories In Trichotilomania? combines the exploration of hunger as an almost violent force with her revulsion for much of humanity as she is happily traipsing around the city until she gets hungry. After buying a bagel, she runs to catch a subway train. As she's about to eat her bagel (the theme of almost getting what she wants runs through many of her comics), an extremely gross guy doing gross things with something stuck in his face (I couldn't quite tell if it was just a long and unruly hair or a jagged piece of glass) gets her so nauseated that she vomits uncontrollably all over herself and worse, her bagel. The lurid colors and over-the-top nature of the action makes the other two comics reviewed here seem reserved in nature. Simple has a way of depicting simple wants and needs in a dramatic, in-your-face manner that focuses on the tiniest details and blows them up beyond recognition. There's a sense of righteousness that's opposed at every moment in her comics, or else her own attempts at making things right and joyful in the world going horribly awry. Simple is less about going after a fanciful, weird world than she is in simply drawing a powerful, visceral reaction.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Patreon Reviews: The Master List

So I've been doing a review a week since I established my Patreon that's exclusive to my Patrons. Here's a master list of those reviews. I am happy to send older reviews to new Patrons, if they're interested.

1. Beauty, by Hubert & Kerascoet.
2. Minis by Robb Mirsky, Dan Mazur, Jake Roth, Jacob Mazer
3. Anything That Loves, edited by Charles "Zan" Christensen
4. If You Steal, by Jason.
5. The Collected Cat Rackham, by Steve Wolfhard.

6. A Walk In Eden, by Anders Nilsen.
7. Forming 2, by Jesse Moynihan.
8. Feline Classics & Canine Classics, edited by Tom Pomplun.
9. Delusional, by Farel Dalrymple.
10. Some Comics, by Steven Collins.

11. The Collected John G. Miller: 1980-1989.
12. Steve Jobs: Insanely Great, by Jessie Hartland.
13. In The Frame 2012-2014, by Tom Humberstone.
14. Loiterers, by Simon Bosse.
15. The Search for Charley Butters, by Zach Worton.

16. Love and Rockets New Stories (Volume 3) #8, by Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez.
17. Confetti, by Ginette Lapalme.
18. Happy Stories About Well-Adjusted People, by Joe Ollman.
19. Zap Comix #19, by R.Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Victor Moscoso, Gilbert Shelton, et al.
20. Eisner Special I: How To Talk To Girls At Parties, by Neil Gaiman, Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba; The Fix #1 by Nick Spencer, Steve Lieber, et al; Love Addict, by Koren Shadmi;

21. Eisner Special II: The Arab Of The Future 2, by Riad Sattouf; Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery", by Miles Hyman; March Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell;
22. Eisner Special III: 5,000 km per second, by Manuele Fior; Snow White, by Matt Phelan; Angel Catbird by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain.
23. Eisner Special IV: Agatha, by Anne Martinetti and Guillaume Lebeau & Alexandre Franc; Black Dahlia, by Rick Geary; James Joyce, by Alfonso Zapico; Muhammad Ali, by Sybille Titeux and Amazing Ameziane . 
24. Eisner Special V: The Nameless City V 1, by Faith Erin Hicks; Mighty Jack, by Ben Hatke; Ape and Armadillo Take Over The World, by James Sturm; Dark Night: A True Batman Story, by Paul Dini & Eduardo Risso; Millarworld Annual 2016 by various; Broken Frontier Anthology, edited by Tyler Chin-Tanner and Frederik Hautain; The Tipping Point, edited by Alex Donoghue & Tim Pilcher.
25. Almost Completely Baxter, by Glen Baxter; & The Complete Peanuts volume 27, by Charles Schulz.

26. Love & Rockets V4 #2, by Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez.
27. Berlin #19 & #20, by Jason Lutes.
28. Untitled Ape's Epic Adventures, by Steven Tillotson.
29. What Am I Doing Here?, by Abner Dean.
30. Science Comics: Volcanoes, by Jon Chad.

31. Glenn Gould: A Life Off-Tempo, by Sandrine Revel.
32. Strange Growths #14, by Jenny Zervakis.
33. The Cross-Eyed Mutt, by Etienne Davodeau.
34. The Lighthouse, by Paco Roca.
35. Volcano Trash, by Ben Sears.

36. California Dreamin', by Penelope Bagieu.
37. True Stories Volume 2, by Derf Backderf.
38. Wombgenda, by Tatiana Gill.
39. Mary Wept Over The Feet Of Jesus, by Chester Brown.
40. Not My Small Diary #19, edited by Delaine Derry Green.

41. Eel Mansions, by Derek Von Gieson.
42. As You Were Volume 4, edited by Avi Ehrlich and Mitch Clem.
43. Sky In Stereo, by Sacha Mardou.
44. Iceland, by Yuichi Yokoyama.
45. Palookaville #23, by Seth.

46. Look, by Jon Nielsen.
47. The Unquotable Trump, by R.Sikoryak.
48. Calla Cthulhu, by Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, and Erin Humiston.
49. Benevolence, by Kyle Baker.
50. Billie The Bee Preview, by Mary Fleener.

51. 30 Miles of Crazy: Another Round, by Karl Christian Krumholz.
52. Love & Rockets Volume 4, #3, by Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez.
53. Long Black Veil, by Isabella Rotman.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Minis: Mardou, Drew Lerman

Some Day My Witch Will Come, by Mardou. Sacha Mardou rarely does autobio comics, though it's obvious that her slice-of-life comics have always had an autobiographical bent to them, be it through adapting direct experience or adapting the experiences of others she knows. This comic is about Mardou turning forty years old two years ago, and in most respects, it was a great time. Her first book was published, she has a wonderful family, and stability. Despite all of this, she was feeling a nameless anxiety and was suffering from acne out of the blue. What followed was a journey that reminded me of a less severe version of John Porcellino's The Hospital Suite, as Mardou went from one homeopathic cure to another in order to fix her acne and eventually realized that she had hit upon a well of trauma that she had never dealt with.

Trauma is an odd thing. It can lie dormant for years as one can consciously push it down, but it will always emerge eventually and frequently has a somatic component as well as an emotional component. When she was getting acupuncture for her acne, she started bursting into huge, wracking sobs for no apparent reason; what was actually happening was Mardou allowing that trauma to start to escape, a little at a time. Or rather, that trauma forced itself to the surface and exploded, especially when she started to try meditation. Mardou zeroes in on facing the witch archetype and how she initially feared it (in part because of the trauma surrounding her religious background). Learning to accept that archetype as always being present in her life and to embrace it as a way of navigating that trauma was a fascinating tool that Mardou started to use, as well as being more aware of her dreams and what they were trying to tell her. She notes one dream where she's at a wedding where two young teens are getting hitched but the flower girl was throwing a fit. She reached out to comfort her and felt a sense of happiness. It wasn't until later that she understood the dream--her parents were teens when they were married and the little girl was her--and she was able to comfort herself.

That's a powerful image. In a therapeutic setting where a patient has a hard time forgiving themselves or loving themselves after going through extreme trauma at a young age, it's not unusual for a therapist to ask if the young version of them was worth saving. Coming to terms with that truth, where one is able to return love to oneself as a child unconditionally is an unbelievably powerful feeling akin to that of the feeling one has for their own children. In Mardou's case, communicating with her inner child meant wanting to play with her young daughter, and that she was able to play with her in the same way she would play as a child only added to that sense of healing and joy. Mardou's layout choices were interesting--open page layout with stacked horizontal panels, anywhere from two to four of them. The looseness of the format contrasts the tightness of her drawings. Certainly, Mardou always maintains a certain ratty looseness in her drawings as part of her style, but there was a boldness and confidence in her line here that made everything look crisper and more fully-realized. I wouldn't say that I'd equate this comic with therapy, but it is a vivid recreation of a therapeutic experience that packs a wallop.

Milk Debt & Boucher's House, by Drew Lerman. Lerman is a rarity: an alternative comics cartoonist from my hometown of Miami, which has never had a discernible scene. He's done Frank Santoro's correspondence course and his work has obviously been strongly both by the grid and the vivid use of color so many Rowhouse students like to employ. In Milk Debt, Lerman tells the story of some fourth graders who speak in a remarkably florid style, the most interesting of which is Hector, a psychopathic bully who has a demon living in his chest. At the same time, Lerman, creating a grotesque atmosphere both in terms of character design and his lurid use of color, skillfully depicts the notion of "fairness" that obsesses children of that age. Rules, deals, and promises have a powerful sense of meaning for them, and trying to retract same has horrible repercussions. That's true in this comic, as when one friend bets another $20 that he'll never French kiss a particular girl. His friend does kiss the girl, who immediately wants a gift (that later turns out not to exist). That sets off a chain of events that leads Hector to buy the debt and punish the kid who owed the $20, only to have his skin ripped open and the demon freed.

This comic works on a number of levels. There may be an eight-panel grid (constantly recentering the page), but it's an open-page format, so there's more of a sense of bleed between the panels and events. Lerman's use of children reminds me a bit of Steve Weissman's, where there's a sense of extreme exaggeration but also a great deal of accuracy with regard to the way children truly interact with each other. There's also the sense of how each child is very much not only in their own world, but actively narrating their stories until they get interrupted by someone else's narrative, often with disastrous consequences. The kids in this story don't so much interact as they do cross paths and engage in power struggles for the right to impose their version of reality on the world.

Boucher's House keeps the eight-panel grid but smashes the panels together to instantly create a sense of suffocation for the reader. The coloring, which was crisp and neat in Milk Debt, is splattered and expressionist, more along the lines of what Dash Shaw does. This comic is a satire of fragile masculinity, as an older man with a young wife is constantly jealous and paranoid that she's out to get him somehow. Whereas it's obvious that she's loving and patient with his frequently toxic but ultimately impotent gestures. I wish there had been a bit more to her character than the patient sex bomb, but I understood what Lerman was getting at in this satire, especially in the hilarious scene where the titular Boucher visits a friend to earn some sympathy and is dealt back the same kind of macho nonsense. Lerman's sense of humor is at once exaggerated and bone-dry, and his line matches those qualities.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Minis: N. Van Sciver, E.Luce/M.Wobensmith


His Last Comic, by Noah Van Sciver. This is Mini-Kus! #60, and it's a jokey story from Van Sciver that he ran on his Facebook page. Van Sciver excels at drawing schlubs and losers, and this is a sort of second cousin to Dan Clowes' old Dan Pussey stories. It's about a worker drone who's been self-publishing his shitty superhero comics to no acclaim for years, and he wonders if he should just give up on his dreams of being famous and getting to go out with this particular woman at his job. In a plot twist that hinges on EC Comics' Old Witch selling him a magical potion which will solve all of his problems. When he pours the potion into the ink that's used to print his comic, he finds that no one can resist the actual object...but no one cares about the story. This is a hilarious send-up of comics as a speculator's item, wherein their perceived "value" was more important than their feelings about the story and art. The main character is an exaggerated loser with no redeeming qualities (even Van Sciver's sad-sack narcissist character Fante Bukowski was likable in some ways), existing to serve a gag and to get his just desserts with an EC-style twist ending. For such a goof of a story, Van Sciver can't help but make beautiful pages that actually add pathos to the narrative. The above image of the artist walking in the snow is gorgeously rendered, giving the reader a sense of the fully-developed world that the artist lives in but can't quite see because his imagination is occupied by adolescent nonsense.


Wuvable Oaf #5, by Ed Luce & Matt Wobensmith. Three years in the making, this 40 page comic book-formatted effort sees Luce going in some different directions, even as he continues to be a genre and boundary-smashing artist. It's not just that this is a gay romance comic; it's a gay romance comic that's about death metal, pro wrestling and features a number of characters who are "bears", or large, hairy men. There's also a strong magical realist component to the comic which resembles Jaime Hernandez's work a bit, only in a different context. Oh, and kitties.

The first few issues of the series focused on the titular Oaf, a former professional wrestler, who developed a huge crush on Eiffel, the diminutive lead singer of death metal band Ejaculoid. The last issue featured their (despite all sorts of weirdness) adorable first date, and the back-up story beginning in this issue deals with the ramifications of Oaf and Eiffel being in a couple while Ejaculoid is on tour. There's a reason why the story is titled "Yokoaf Onoaf", which is one of my all-time favorite story puns. Luce is a skilled illustrator and cartoonist, and there's an astonishing two page spread filled with literally flowery detail when Oaf walks into the hotel holding the gig and finds it filled with flowers and ferns. It's precisely the opposite of the sort of grit and grime usually seen in this comic and it's a marvelous comedic turn. After singing "Fatty Daddy Baby Batter" (an ode to sexy, chubby dads), we are introduced to Marx, who apparently commands black, magical mind-control tentacles but is mostly looking to get laid on Ejaculoid's tour as its manager. (He hooks up with Simon Hanselmann's Megg character here, for instance.) It's silly, it's weird, and it's funny, even as Luce cooks up some band melodrama for further episodes.

On the other hand, the other side of the comic (it's a flip book) follows Smusherrrr, the "artist" who once was obsessed with Oaf to the point of stalking and is now obsessed with Oaf's friend Bufu. This section was written by Wobensmith, and Smusherrrr is presented as a character who is desperately in search of an identity, and often tries to find that identity in his obsessions with others. There's a hilariously creepy scene where Bufu, who is African-American, is "accidentally" run into by Smusherrrr and his grocery cart, which contains nothing but chocolate items. After an over-the-top and uncomfortable scene where Smush essentially begs Bufu to be his, there's a hilarious drug sequence (inspired by smoking hair of various people and animals) where he confronts aspects of himself that he was unwilling to come to terms with. This leads up to his attending a support group for fake people; in other words, people who appropriate or fetishize other cultures and races. The best character there is Killrrrrr, who is drawn like a grown-up Charlie Brown (including using the same lettering style as Schulz!) wearing a Dodgers jersey and a do-rag whose biggest ambition is to break into "the inner circle of Hollywood gangster character actor extras." Satirizing racial and ethnic  stereotypes & appropriation is a tricky matter, but Luce does a lot to make it work with his exaggerated, cartoony drawings. He's an exceptional caricaturist (it's perhaps his greatest skill) and putting in jokes like adding in the Tupac hologram (from Coachella 2012) as a literally fake racial persona went a long way in making the situation funny, rather than relying on drawing a lot of stereotypes. I'm not sure what the ultimate point of this storyline will be (an epiphany for Smusherrrr? a tour of racist appropriations throughout history? leaving Smusherrrr as a clueless, narcissistic parasite?), but Luce has thus far heightened the humor and defused what could have been a number of problematic elements.