Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Dispatches From Seattle: Froh/Clotfelter, Van Deusen

Stewbrew #5, by Kelly Froh and Max Clotfelter. This is the duo's zine that they work on together, and in this case it's comics and collage from a trip between Wisconsin and their home in Seattle. Froh's mother gifted her a car, but she had to drive it back. There are menus, receipts and all sorts of weird ephemera. There's annotated ephemera which included amusing advertisements, as well. Froh and Clotfelter switch off doing comics on the trip. Froh starts off the comics with a strip about her parents, who rarely showed her affection as a child but surprised her on this visit. Froh and Clotfelter contrast nicely in terms of style, as Froh keeps things simple with her line and Clotfelter employs a scratchy, ink-heavy style.

The couple is determined to see as much Americana as possible on the trip, so they stop off in places like Bible Land and stay in the Frontier Cabin Motel. In the Badlands, they encounter prairie dogs and are told that the dogs have the plague and must be avoided. In the style of John Porcellino, there's lists of music they listened to and the kinds of (mostly awful) foods they ate. A highlight is an atlas doodled all over by the artists. The pace of the comics quicken as they get closer to Seattle. Clotfelter doesn't like to linger on details as much as Froh does to begin with, as Clotfelter drinks in the scenery while driving and draws things in dense but readable style. The comic is at its best in depicting quiet moments with awe and affection, like when the two are briefly stranded in a town that feels abandoned, as though they were in a zombie film that was just getting started. The punchline of the comic is Froh noting that despite driving a couple of thousand miles through strange territory, driving in Seattle was going to be much worse, thanks to the general unfriendliness of the city. Everything about their styles and sensibilities stands in sharp relief to the other, but they complement each other nicely. Both their comics and the fun little nuggets of text they incorporate into the issue add to that strange road trip reality they were living in.

The Big Me Book, by Tom Van Deusen. Van Deusen took his formula of the ultra-revolting male autobiographical cartoonist to a new, awful, and hilarious level in this comic. Not only is each individual strip designed to make the reader despise him like he was an expert wrestling heel, Van Deusen has created a subtle continuity between strips that escalates that loathing, creating callbacks that give a base to the exponentially increasing over-the-top quality of each strip. From the author's statement that kicks the book off that satirically wonders why everyone wouldn't want to know everything about him and the (tastefully) nude photo of him sunbathing in a park (which I hope was done specifically for this purpose), Van Deusen immediately sets the reader against him.

The first strip is a nasty takedown of cartoonists and social media, in that he wanted to get a lot more likes from his facebook post of having dinner with his parents back home. That likes have become a kind of currency, especially for artists, is a crystalization of the desire to be validated by popular demand. The fact that the reality is that he berates and insults his poor parents just lays the illusion bare. That's just a warm-up for the comic's real doozy of a strip, in which Tom feeds a stray cat who happens to be a magical talking cat who grants him wishes. Van Deusen wishes for a room full of Nazi memorabilia, to be able to wear a SS uniform in public and finally to be able to fuck a plastic vagina in public with no repercussions. The sheer awfulness combined with the utter banality of these wishes is what makes this story so funny, along with the disgusted but obligated cat's comments and awful, eventual fate. Van Deusen doubles and then triples down in this story, and drawing himself with a leering, crazed look on his face throughout reinforces his awfulness.

Van Deusen then takes that to another level in what starts off as a "I'm bombing at a con story" into something far stranger. In trying to trick a woman into thinking that he's not a misogynist ("It's satire", he repeatedly notes, again hitting on the go-to excuse for many a misogynistic cartoonist's work). Then Van Deusen returns to the realm of the ridiculous, as it becomes apparent that his thought balloons have somehow become apparent to everyone, a fourth-wall gag that Van Deusen really exploits with phrases like "It's not satire, I'm totally a Nazi." That leads to a wacky visit to the doctor, a call-back to his relationship with his parents (of course he still calls his mother "Mommy") and an explosive sight gag to end it. Throw in an homage to Dr Seuss on the cover, and you have Van Deusen firing on all cylinders: conceptually, narratively and visually. The fact that he does it in such a concise manner is what really sets it apart from his past work. What makes a further impact is just how much detail he's able to cram into strips that move so quickly, and how interesting his drawings are. Consider the cat granting a wish in the page above: its sunken eyes and the hypnotic spiral emanating from it indicate a creature that is ancient and powerful.                                                                                                                                                                                   

Monday, January 1, 2018

Thirty Days of CCS: The Guide And High-Low News

Before I publish the handy all-in-one guide to this year's Thirty Days Of CCS feature, I wanted to make a few quick announcements. There will be no new content this week, so that I can catch up with my patrons, whose patrons-only content was put to one side in December so I could concentrate on the main feature. Every day this week, starting Tuesday, will contain a new review for my patrons. New material on the regular site will commence once again on January 8th.

1.  Colleen Frakes, Sophie Goldstein, Amelia Onorato
2.  Laura Terry
3.  Tillie Walden
4.  Luke Howard, Steve Thueson, Dan Nott
5.  Joyana McDiarmid, Jarad Greene, Mary Shyne
6.  Daryl Seitchik
7.  Beth Hetland, Mary Shyne, Josh Lees
8.  Hannah Kaplan
9.  Girl Talk & My Pace 2
10. Iona Fox & Penina Gal

11 .Dakota McFadzean, Dean Sudarsky, Mitra Farmand
12. Carl Antonowicz
13. Charles Forsman
14. Rachel Dukes, Sean Knickerbocker
15. Rio Aubry Taylor, Melissa Mendes & Michelle Ollie
16. Ian Richardson
17. Rainer Kannenstine, Anna Sellheim
18. Kane Lynch
19. Nomi Kane & Donna Almendrala
20. Allison Bannister, Whiteley Foster

21. Romey Petite & Laurel Holden
22. Ben Wright-Heuman & Andi Santagata
23. Sasha Steinberg
24. April Malig
25. Melanie Gillman
26. Reilly Hadden
27. Aaron Cockle, Mathew New, Steve Thueson
28. Simon Reinhardt
29. Cooper Whittlesey
30. dw
31. Awesome Possum