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.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Slices of CAKE: Moving, Silly, and Cute

Sit and Think About What You've Done
By M.R. Trower

Transgender people seem to be in the spotlight in the United States at the moment, but as with any minority, it can be hard to understand them when you're coming at the subject from a position like mine; that is from the perspective of a white male heterosexual whose experience is deemed the "default" and who doesn't have to question how they fit in to society. That's why I find stories in which members of minority groups describe their experience so valuable; they provide me with understanding that I wouldn't have otherwise.

Of course, that perspective makes these stories all about me, which is the opposite of their usual intent. I don't need my sensibilities catered to; I have pretty much the entirety of western literature available for that. But I still get a lot out of this type of story, and I'm glad that people are willing to share them with me.

That's what M.R. Trower does with this minicomic; it's a sort of diary of their experience following their top surgery, a detailed look at the physical toll the surgery took on their body, the swirl of emotions that they felt, the support received from friends, and the fact this is just one step along the way in their life. It's moving stuff, full of raw emotion that doesn't pull any punches, a nearly direct pouring of feeling from Trower's head onto the paper, and it's a beautiful document of humanity, a glimpse into another person's experience that's immersive and heartfelt. I applaud Trower for their courage in sharing this story, and even though I don't think it's purpose is to educate people about the lives and travails of trans people, I found it immensely rewarding to get to share a bit of a life that's so foreign from my own.

Papa Time
By Max Weiss
Self-published (although I got it from One Percent Press)

And now for something completely different. This one is just silly, a stream-of-consciousness story (literally; Max Weiss notes on the inside from cover that he scripted it in this manner, then later adapted it to comics form using techniques learned in Frank Santoro's correspondence course), about a young woman who meets a friend in a diner and tells her about a guy she just met and fell in love with. He's a nondescript, balding, middle-aged fellow, but she is now in love with him, and the reasons for that, as well as the rivalries she soon finds for his affections, all sort of make sense, at least from a comedy perspective. It's goofy, funny stuff, and Weiss's fairly simple art makes it all work by highlighting the characters' expressions in a humorous manner and mixing simple character art with fairly dense shading and texture in the backgrounds. There's really not much to this thing, but what's there is pretty enjoyable in its strangeness. I liked it well enough.

Come Back Soon
By Rachel Bard

If I was going to give out an award for the cutest comic I got at CAKE 2016, this would win hands down. It's tiny, measuring about 1 inch by 2 inches, and it's one of those little minicomics that's formed by folding a single piece of paper into a short comic that's only a few pages long. What makes this one special though is that Rachel Bard manages to use this limited space to tell a cute story about a lizard going on a trip to an island, checking out all the animals he saw there, and drawing pictures of them. Then, he makes a little comic of his own called "New Animals that I Found", and Bard includes it as an even tinier minicomic tucked into the last page of the comic! It's a beautiful little piece of art that tells a simple story, and an ingenious use of a comic within a comic to demonstrate both Bard's creativity and that of her character. I loved it, and I love that this is the kind of amazing work I can find at CAKE each year.