Thursday, October 5, 2017

Comics From Hazel Newlevant and Laura PallMall

Sugar Town, by Hazel Newlevant. This is a good old-fashioned, quasi-autobiographical romance comic by an artist who quite deservingly just won an Ignatz award for portraying relationships both healthy and toxic. The fact that it's a queer, poly romance comic simply means that there were more layers for Newlevant to explore in a manner where every character treated others with respect, empathy and compassion. This is not to say that the comic was devoid of tension, because people make mistakes even with the best of intentions, but that the openness displayed by all prevented cartoonish conflicts and deceptions.

The story finds Hazel home in Portland, away from her boyfriend. She meets a woman named Argent who tells her within seconds of meeting that she's also a dominatrix. Not to impress or intimidate her, but simply as a matter-of-fact expression of her sexuality. The cover of this comic is expertly constructed: Hazel moving from right to left across the page, stopped in her tracks by the gaze of the exceedingly confident Argent, as a disco globe above them framed the image. Newlevant explores desire, vulnerability, queer identities, poly identities and so much more in this comic. There's a scene where she's skyping in the bathtub with her boyfriend, as they both deal with feelings of jealousy that often appear no matter how hard one tries in this sort of relationship. There's the palpable new relationship energy on the page as she gets to know Argent, and when she accidentally annoys her when she talks about her dominatrix job in public, it's a moment that's respectfully acknowledged but forgiven.

I don't know how much of this was pulled from real life, but there are levels of detail on a date that I found remarkable: Argent coming home to bake Hazel a cake for her birthday, a flogging session derailed by a pulled muscle, and Vicodin-induced declarations of love. Hazel deciding to make a true mix tape (not CD or digital file) for the older Argent was especially cute and drove the narrative a bit further, as the story ended with Hazel heading back to New York but very much in love with two people. Newlevant's figure work grows ever more confident with each new project, but it's her coloring that's the real revelation of this comic. It's complementary to her line rather than overwhelming it, but her use of color particularly with regard to outfits was a key aspect of the story, as Argent's stylishness was an important part of her overall personality. It's a sweet story with levels of complexity that surprise the reader, with every aspect of its emotional narrative feeling entirely earned.

Sporgo 2, by Laura Pallmall. The artist has a way of digging deep into the lives of miserable or confused people and dumping the audience right into the middle of their problems. A young screenwriter in LA is struggling to find any traction, doing shit jobs and even getting arrested at a Wal-Mart for illegally filming a project. The mini follows him around, including a disturbing episode of sleep paralysis that takes on apocalyptic overtones. What's most interesting about this comic is the way Pallmall juxtaposes the most mundane and tedious difficulties that have more to do with ennui than anything else with their sudden transformation into potential doomsday scenarios. Such stories tend to sneak into the writer's scripts no matter what else he's doing, as well as his nightmares. Pallmall's figurework is greatly simplified from the first issue, which certainly helps with the story's overall flow. The way she captures a particular time and place gives the comic a lot of power, as the main character is faced with a common problem in Hollywood: maintain integrity or start to buy the hype and dressing regarding star power. The ending provides a beat where he realizes that he can't do both at once and isn't sure which way he's going to go. That ambiguity is another strength of Pallmall's work, as she prefers to provide only enough information for the reader to understand what's at stake but eschews doling out easy answers.

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