Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Slices of CAKE: Cathy G. Johnson brings the talent

By Cathy G. Johnson
Published by Koyama Press

By Cathy G. Johnson
Published by One Percent Press

Cathy G. Johnson was a special guest at CAKE this year, and while I had looked at their art in previous years and thought it was really nice looking, now that I've actually read some of their comics, I can see why my fellow organizers wanted to highlight their work. Johnson has some great cartooning skill, utilizing simple lines for character art and delineating faces with dot eyes and triangle noses, but also filling panels with gorgeously moody shadows and evocative watercolors. Johnson's art and storytelling leave a lot unsaid, forcing readers to puzzle out what characters might be feeling, but making them compelling enough that we want to do so.

Gorgeous is an interesting character piece following a couple of rebellious young punks who get chased out of a house party, get into a car accident due to their stupidity, and end up hanging out with the girl who they crashed into as she waits for a mechanic shop to open in the morning so she can get her car fixed. It's an interesting portrait of disaffected, carefree youth, one in which these characters hint that maybe there's something going on under the surface, but then reverse themselves suddenly and turn out to be worse than we expected. And fascinatingly, Johnson chooses to leave them there and follow the other character instead, providing a glimpse of things from the other side of the equation and an understanding of how people's actions affect others, both positively and negatively.

Jeremiah is another somewhat minimalist graphic novel, following the title character as he lives and works on his father's farm, has a strange, at least somewhat sexual relationship with a younger girl that seems like she might be related to him, and becomes enamored with the stranger that his father hires to help out. It's an odd story, one that gets odder as it progresses and things start happening that don't really make sense, but the way that Johnson details Jeremiah's confusion, uncertainty, and inner struggles makes him compelling, and when he finally takes an action to pursue his desires instead of letting others rule him, it's thrilling. I'm still not sure what the symbolism of everything means (maybe something about the oppression of small-town life or a religious upbringing?), but it's a fascinating work to consider, and it's full of absolutely beautiful watercolors that capture the alternating bright beauty and oppressive shadows of Jeremiah's life.

It's obvious from reading these two books that Johnson is a young talent to be reckoned with, and they have cartooning skill to spare. I'm always amazed when an artist can do so much with what seems like so little, and Johnson is a perfect exemplar of finding just the right line and tone to evoke emotion or draw the reader in and make them examine their characters. I'm excited to see someone like this continue to develop and mature as an artist, and I can't wait to see what they do next.