The Orange Won't Peel | God's last cigarette

Harold | Antoine Cosse | Retrofit Comicsby Alec BerryAvailable here

Antoine Cosse's Harold is an experiment in atmosphere, I think, though it certainly shows interest in character. The way to explain it properly is by the contents: a dystopian future, celebrity obsession, nostalgia, oral storytelling, cars, architecture, landscape and a race of cloned bodyguards that smoke cigarettes through mouth pieces. These are a barrage of details suggesting a number of corners to poke your head around, yet they're presented via a singular point of view, that of Harold, one of the already mentioned bodyguards tasked to chauffeur a famous film director. A slight break in tough-guy exterior shepherds a moment for him to look back and share an anecdote both historical and hazed in personal bias (the crux of the story). And it's here Cosse uses a character's mood and vague background to make an abstracted visual impression, though that's about all I can make of it.

Cosse's drawings cast a world simultaneously futuristic and retro, lending the work an aesthetically-fascinated attitude. Though the style also seems to serve the comic's deeper concern of design in a reality amidst transition, and I feel this not only applies to the fictional setting of the story but to the form of comics. Because Cosse uses numerous approaches to draft his pages and communicate his ideas, from six-panel grids to double-page spreads to housing his comics within drawn, visual motifs without grids to direct them (see the image below).

It is deliberate past a storytelling point, because these changes are laid out in sections within the book, flowing into one another and than back around with the conclusion. It's more like an exercise as Cosse tests himself to know how much he can cram into this thing. It's also a total work of fusion (in the Santoro sense), in that it draws upon various genres within an "art comix" context while it bleeds between traditional tactics (six-panel grids) and improvised designs (again, image below).

Those improvised designs aren't exactly clear, sadly. Speaking with a friend, we couldn't conclude on any specific meaning determined for this shape repeated in the comic, and I really don't believe there is one. It's a nice thing to look at, I guess, but without an added purpose, it becomes just a lame bit of baggage, sorely standing apart as a failed attempt. Or a total red herring.

I like the red herring idea, that a cartoonist would be bold enough to create an abstract thing just to have a reader think long and hard about it to arrive at nothing (or something totally bizarre). But I won't. Even if there is a meaning, and I'm missing it. This comic isn't for a statement or a symbol. It only saturates you with a tone, a look, a mix of pop culture's familiar notes and the sound of simple, crisp words delivering something plain, yet distantly personal. Everything comes together in such a frenzy, creating a whole that's not particularly focused on anything, yet is mysterious and cool because of that.

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Untitled | Sarah Ferrick | Self-publishedby Shawn StarrAvailable here

Sarah Ferrick’s approach to comics is unique because she turns the words themselves into the primary artistic focus. By doing so, each letter she chooses, and how she chooses to draw it, becomes a crucial point in the story.

There are seven words total in this untitled comic. Almost all are repeated at least once; some right after themselves. Ferrick chose each word carefully, both for its meaning, but also for how strong and weak the word is (in the abstract and in relation to each other).

“GOD” echo’s throughout this comic, taking up almost the entire left half of the first page. Each letter is depicted with a tightness, although the rounder elements of O and D are given a bit of dimension around their corners. The actual pencil lines that make up each letter are carefully constructed to make the image of the word “GOD” appear orderly. The red coloring, which is used to highlight each letter, is tightly packed within the line work of each letter. All this attention gives a great importance to the word “GOD” within the image, yet the sound produced in the reader's mind is not a yell or a scream. It's a passive use of the word. Evoking the meaning behind the word, but not the brimstone that comes with it.

Next to “GOD” is a series of black boxes drawn within each other. On the top left corner of each box,  Ferrick paints a small band of yellow and white to give a bit of light and an added depth of space (creating the visual effect of a hallway). At the end of this series of boxes we see the words “FUCK ME/FUCK ME” in the same shade of yellow as the highlights. Due to the words perceived distance from the reader, and the cleanness of the lines that make them up, they seem almost quiet, like faint whispers.

Ferricks use of “FUCK ME” and “GOD” on the first page is interesting, because everything involved in their depiction has a silencing effect. For such strong words they don’t feel that way. The control of the letters, along with the deafening nature of her blacks, make the words barely register so that even the vulgarity of the fuck and the holiness of God are muted; creating at most a rise in the reader but not a feeling.

The second page is a response to the words spoken in the first, but the calmness of the first page is now a contrived hesitance. Beginning with a big fat “BUT”, the word seems to be in the process of overlapping itself, turning each bend of the B into corner to hide itself in. Unlike “GOD”, “BUT” is given no primary color, leaving it to exist in its own translucence, making each of its twists and turns all the less effective. Every line can be seen by the reader because it has nothing to hide behind. Below it “BUT” is repeated once again, but in its stark black it resembles more a shadow of its first appearance than a new iteration. To the immediate right of “BUT” we see commas that create a sense of stuttering. One of the “I,”'s is drawn to be deep black while the other is in a looser and plumper style, creating the resemblance of an echo between each other.

Taking up the entire right half of this page is a giant “UH” drawn in almost complete black, sans the mild application of purple to give dimension. The “UH” resembles “GOD”, but the strength represented by “GOD” is missing here. By depicting “UH” in a similar manner we see explicitly how quivering the response to the first page is, the “UH” reinforces the “BUT” and “I”'s, but unlike “GOD”, which gives strength to the “FUCK ME/FUCK ME”, this “UH” reinforces how weak they are, turning the whispers they represent into pure silence as “UH” drones on.


On the final page “GOD” is repeated once more, yet Ferrick’s representation is less controlled, reminiscent now of the anger found in the old testament. Each letter is drawn looser, with a depth added to line work so that it looks like each letter is falling backwards into itself. Where the red coloring in page one was exact, here it looks as if it was almost glopped on and smeared around in circular motions only to be violently dashed off.

The small corridor that once housed a tight and quickly repeated “FUCK ME/FUCK ME” has also blown up in size and is depicted in a less controlled manner. The highlights of yellow are now erratic splotches of no color. Due to the lengthening of the hallway, the echo effect of "GOD" feels infinitely deeper now; it reverberates down the long hallway of nothingness, and it seems like it never ends. And the whisper of “FUCK ME/FUCK ME” is long gone.

 In the bottom left corner of the page, hiding from the noise and anger, is a small penciled-in box with the words “But. I, I, UH” inside. It continues to feel like the wrong answer.

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Alien Invasion 3 | Lala Albert | Self-publishedby Shawn Starr // Alec BerryNot really available here

Shawn: Okay, since I picked this, I’ll kick it off.

Lala Albert has had a big year, or at least as big a year as someone can have in art comics. Her book Janus from Breakdown Press was as close as any to being the “book of the show” at Comic Arts Brooklyn, and I’ve become mildly obsessed with tracking down her available work.

Albert’s comics sort of belong to a recent trend of body horror work that has become popular, but while much of that stuff (from other cartoonists) feels cutesy, Albert's horror is at the forefront. Alien Invasion 3, a mini comic from 2013, is more liquid in its premise than you would think. Collecting four short stories, each dissects the intent of an alien invasion (both good and bad).

Alec: It's a cool premise for a mini. I just felt very little after reading it, though I’m not necessarily sure there’s less to it because of that. Part of my reaction comes from simply being quickly bored by it. These shorts supply good ideas, but they’re just ideas with little else accompanying them, so there’s less to contemplate and review altogether.

Another part of it, though, is that Albert is such an image maker her stories, at least in this case, don’t matter because it's really more about having the reader walk away with a specific panel in mind. The reaction to the work then becomes somewhat removed (probably on purpose). Instead of tangling with a narrative to compartmentalize and connect it to other things (which is human), you end up at a distance because this thing that initially seems fluid and together soon isn't. It's a comic where the gutters are actually noticed as space between the pictures, rather than some invisible force uniting everything. It’s not necessarily bad. It just signals a delayed response, though I’m assuming that’s why Albert is spoken of so frequently because it is an experiment - one that seems to almost want to reverse the practiced comics reading process (where you’d normally want to connect images for a larger effect, this is working in the opposite direction). I’m not entirely sold on its success, but it is a thought, and I'm glad someone's having it.

And a third, and final part of it is that I'm kind of tired of the body horror/porn "art comic" thing. It feels like I could draw a dick fucking anything (as long as there was black goo involved, and I referenced Alien) and receive nods of approval for it. I don't know. Maybe I'm just being salty?

That said, the fucking on the train in this comic was disgusting and heartfelt. That dude’s spiral, tree-nub dick thrusting its way up in there turned my stomach because I could suddenly smell rotting tree bark, and I felt guilty for ever fucking anybody.

Shawn: Her style has this oddness about it, I think. Her figures are recognizable as human, but their proportions are off. Her faces tend to involve chins and foreheads that protrude outwards, creating an almost jellybean-like side profile. Her aliens barely look any different sans an antenna or warping mask. I think this goes towards that idea of distancing, though. They’re humans/non-humans at the same time.

Distance is also at the heart of Sci-Fi and Sex. Dystopian futures are more about critiquing the present than the future, just as sex tells you more about the individuals’ relationships with one another than their ability to make each other cum. Alien Invasion combines these two acts, intertwining them under the umbrella title. Of the four stories in this collection, “12 On Venus” and “34 Starlight Local” are the strongest, but the latter illustrates this idea most explicitly.

The basic plot of “34 Starlight Local” is that two individuals meet on an interstellar train. The male character is identified explicitly as alien (Albert draws him with an antenna, though the rest of his body seems anatomically human), while the female passenger is just like us.

Over the course of the trip, the two begin to have sex with each other, shown in varying detail. With every act we see a growing intimacy between the two, as scenes of sex are intercut with panels of them sleeping in each others arms, holding hands while looking out at the stars and  sharing coffee at breakfast. At the height of this intimacy the male asks, hesitantly, “hey do…i was thinking we’ve been hanging out for a while...do you want to have sex?”. This question takes both the reader and the female for surprise, since they already seem to be doing so. Though, the male’s definition of the act is something we learn by the comic’s conclusion, and it certainly echoes the idea of invasion.

34 Starlight Local” could easily translate to a non-sci fi setting, but by placing it in space there's enough distance to remove any sense of titillation and instead focus on the strangeness of the act as well as the female character’s discomfort. The smell of rotting tree bark seems apt, but it could be anything that unsettles you.

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