Bob's Comics Reviews July 1997 Arrows


Jessica Abel: Artbabe
Abel is moving up: from self-published and handbound to Xeric grant to a regular book at Fantagraphics; you may also have seen her in Action Girl. (Her contributions there tend to be arty and inaccessible; but her piece in AG #6 is cute.) Abel's urbanites

Her stories are usually vignettes of urban twentysomethings facing their twentysomething dilemmas: clueless friends, boring jobs, romantic hangups, unfilfilled artistic aspirations. She lives in Chicago, so it's cool seeing stuff I recognize-- the inside of an el car, the Kennedy, Chinatown, someone reading the Reader. Unlike some alternative artists, however, she doesn't restrict her vision to herself-- the first story in Artbabe #5, for instance, is centered on guys, and its tale of sudden romantic longing for a stranger strikes me as excellent insight into male psychology.

They're reminiscent of Jaime Hernandez's comics-- they're well drawn, very urban, centered around people whose most important preoccupations are their relationships with each other, and they have that everday, slice of life quality. So far, she doesn't seem to have developed any continuing characters, which would be a help to the reader (the last story in #5 is very hard to follow, for instance, though intriguing and adept in capturing the cadence of conversation).

Her art keeps getting better and better; her color covers make one wish she were French, so she wasn't restricted to B&W. And so she could make enough money to ditch the day job and build a following. Her storytelling is developing fast, but needs a bit more work.

Much of #4, for instance, is devoted to what is essentially an illustrated novel (about irresponsible city girls, a theme which reappears in #5). She mentions feeling that it "isn't very visual" and might have worked better as a novel. Not really-- it just needs editing (and here she could learn from Jaime, or Alison Bechdel). You don't have to reproduce a conversation verbatim in comics; you can be alarmingly elliptic. She was seated near Jason Lutes at the Comics Expo last year; I hope she picked up some pointers.

Update: Abel has a new ongoing series, La Perdida, basically about one of her irresponsible city girls set loose in Mexico City. It's far more sophisticated than her earlier work, and I'll have to give it its own review some time.

Dave Cooper: Suckle: The Status of Basil
Basil is a little-- boy? man? It's a strange thing about comics and cartoons, that you can't always tell-- when I was a kid I puzzled myself wondering if, say, Boris Badunov was a child or a man. It didn't seem clear; he acted like a child but had the freedom of an adult. Anyway, Basil is born one day in a fantastic world, heads to the city, interacts with a series of strange mentors, discovers sex, discovers violence, discovers friendship, discovers betrayal, discovers sex some more.

Cooper has one hell of a visual imagination, that's for sure. He goes where Herriman and Howard Cruse only hint. I wish he could do color more too-- he's great with it; he doesn't just color in, he uses color. Not that his work isn't gorgeous in black & white.

Thematically, it's powerful stuff, but it makes Woodring's decision to eschew word balloons look wise. It's pretty much a parable about male lust-- Basil, born ex nihilo, has to learn about lust, love, women, corruption, pleasure, addiction, and the devil. And to my mind, Cooper doesn't know which way he wants it. On the one hand, certain sequences seem to equate the lust for sex with pure evil (see esp. pp. 64-6, or 85-6, or the climactic scene). On the other hand there's at least one extremely positive picture of sex (pp. 92-97); and there certainly isn't an anti-sex message in the rather frequent vaginal imagery, or the loving depictions of women. I suppose the lesson is Moebius's: Cooper looks inside his head, and this is what he sees, with all its contradictions, its intimations of both good and evil.

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