Monday, November 24, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 24: Kevin Uehlein, Red House

Kevin Uehlein's comics fall somewhere between the mark-making and underground traditions. Each of the minis he sent me looked ripped straight from his sketchbook, giving them a certain sense of freshness and immediacy. At the same time, there's little in the way of coherency or continuity to be found, though this didn't seem to be his goal to begin with. For example, Compulse 6 and 7 are pure sketchbook work, repeating themes and images. Uehlein experimented with color, form and variations on a theme: cute girls, bearded creatures, cat creatures, wolf creatures, etc. That underground impulse is strong, even if his attention to explicitly sexual issues is tangential at best. These are exercises of the imagination, not just the id.

Dumbass Dog In "Smell The Roses" makes a couple of winking nods to R.Crumb as it employs anthropomorphic animals, one of whom does a variation of the "Keep On Truckin'" pose. Trying to roust his horrible friend, Disgusting Duck, to go out on a walk, the comic goes as scatological as one can imagine, only there's a clever joke he manages to conjure out of the situation. The comic ends with what seemed like it might be a sad-sack climax, only to reverse reader expectations by making its protagonist a profoundly satisfying winner against a bully. This was my favorite of Uehlein's comics, partly because of the character design and partly because of the odd turns the story took.

Compulse 5: Hideous is a cross between autobio and sketchbook mini, as Uehlein ponders a day spent in Los Angeles as a recently minted thirty year old. The page design of this comic is especially interesting, as he crams up to a couple of dozen panels on each page of wildly varying size. George Herriman is as much a touchstone as Crumb in these comics, as there's a poetic quality to each page, both in terms of the images and the actual text. The use of funny animals allows him a certain flexibility regarding the depiction of reality, giving him a chance to get weird at the drop of a hat without jarring the reader. At the same time, the comic is clearly personal and a way to work out issues related to loneliness and a sense of purpose.

Finally, KJC #1 is a jam between Uehlein and fellow CCS classmate DW. It's a pretty exquisite merging of aesthetic sensibilities, The two color pages in particular are a surprisingly tasteful psychedelic explosion, mixing the sheer density of a DW page with the more open and cartoony Uehlein drawings, along with the typical DW use of collage and repurposed text. It's more interesting to parse and scan than actually read, which is true of much of Uehlein's work here.

Uehlein does lead off the mini anthology Red House, a funny and gross collection of misfortunes and misadventures. With his Disgusting Duck character, Uehlein goes way over the top in depicting a string of utterly disgusting events (including a street vendor selling vomit for some reason), leading to the duck's job at Subway and an unexpected punchline. Pat Barrett's shit-related interstitial material is brutal in terms of its satiric punch, especially the ones aimed at religion and belief systems in general. Beth Hetland's atypically nasty strip about a tiny female creature that torments humans in ways big and small is just a series of escalating jokes that simply keeps going. Ben Horak's "Fun Fun With Dumb Dumb" is a typically masterful account of a horrible person trying to get over on a girl by putting a squirrel in his pants (to emphasize his "masculinity"), only to traumatize the animal that eventually comes back for revenge. It's the tiny visual details (like the squirrel shivering in the shower or tentatively peeking outside while wearing a robe and smoking a cigarette) that make Horak's work so funny. Josh Kramer's joke about a raccoon as a chef in a fancy restaurant doesn't have quite enough of a wind-up to make it effective, but Dakota McFadzean's take on a Casper the Friendly Ghost type character is hilarious and terrifying at the same time. This group of CCS alumni is clearly quite simpatico, even when some of them worked a little out of their wheelhouse with regard to subject matter. Uehlein's sensibilities clearly set the stage for this anthology, as his piece didn't vary much at all from his regular work.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 23: Rebecca Roher, Jonathan Rotsztain, Peter Audry

Let's turn to some of the most recent CCS students.

Rebecca Roher's comics use a thick line and simple character design to relate observations about life, nature and human interaction. Her work reminds me a little of Eleanor Davis' in that she freely mixes in certain fantasy elements while keeping the character work grounded and personal. In Gotta Get My Veg, her brushy figures are lively and expressive, carrying a story that veers toward the twee at times. (The phrase "Gotta get my veg" is overused to the point of annoyance.) Still, there's a combination of gentleness and empathy toward her characters combined with a hint of mischief that makes the story worth reading. Short Stories features a mix of sketchbook-quality art that was hastily but expressively drawn, lush color work, fantasy stories with an open-page layout and autobio stories. One of the color stories, "Fireworks", is a slight but beautiful observation of the sky when fireworks went off; nothing more, nothing less, other than trying to convey a sense of beauty and awe she felt. Roher experiments by using a fuzzy line in a dream sequence in a different story, but much of her work has the running theme of conveying little moments of wonder.

The story Lost In The Sublime was the most interesting of the three minis and deals directly with this concept of beauty as defined by Immanuel Kant, the notion of the sublime. It is beauty so great that the nature of encountering it cannot be truly communicated. One can talk about, or react to, or think about the sublime experience, but all of these post facto activities are not the experience itself. For Kant, this experience of beauty was mystical in nature, despite that experience being rooted in temporality and corporeality. In other words, we encounter something at a particular time that looks or sounds a particular way, and it moves us as something sublime, something that we apprehend at a level beyond simply our five senses. This mini describes this experience as felt by Roher at various times, beginning with acutely feeling a sense of scale in nature: her smallness against the bigness of nature. The same was true when she closely observed an ecosystem and the way that insects, plants and animals interacted with it. It concludes with an acid trip, one where the interconnectedness of all things is seen as both painful and beautiful. Here, her character design is especially simple but engaging. While Roher is not nearly as innovative as Davis was even in her earliest days as a cartoonist, one senses a similar level of potential in drawing comics about what it means to be human and to interact with the world.

Jonathan Rotsztain, Roher's partner and a fellow CCS student, takes an entirely different approach to comics. His early autobio catalog/comic, Everything That's Wrong With My Body, is a bracing account of everything he finds disgusting or weird about his own nude body. It's an interesting exercise, almost a sort of autobio palate-cleanser that got a lot of self-loathing out of the way early on. The crudeness of Rotsztain's line lends a certain power and authenticity to the proceedings. That crudeness doesn't work quite as well in the autobio piece The Subjective Way, an account of his time as an employee of the popular fast food chain. It's really a story about trying to find his way as a human being who found himself drifting through life, dealing with the luxury and guilt of having the safety net of his parents the entire time he was working fast food as a young adult in his early 20s. Rotsztain is acutely aware of the nature of his "slumming", dealing with that sense of privilege with a tad bit of guilt by way of a lot of self-deprecating comments.

Indeed, self-worth is a running theme of his comics. In his truly strange A TailTale Tale, he creates an amalgamation of Archie Comics and Jack Chick tracts. Rotsztain imagines a world where humans never lost their vestigial tails, one that disappears in utero. This comic describes a world where the size of one's tail is essential to one's social status. A man with a stubby tail or a woman with a big tail is considered a freak. What's fascinating about this comic is the level of detail that Rotsztain provides in creating this world. It's obvious he's thought long and hard about the implications of having a tail, but beyond that, he nails the language of tracts and self-help books. He doesn't quite have the chops as a draftsman to pull it off seamlessly, but the sheer, crude energy of his line gets the idea across with deadpan humor and a certain relentless earnestness. Rotsztain certainly knows how to tell a story, but it will take him time to develop a style that fits with abilities as a draftsman in a more seamless manner.

Finally, there's Peter Audry. His collection of daily strips, Spirit Shack Vol. 1, is one of the more intriguingly scattered comics I've come across from a CCS cartoonist. Most daily comics tend to be about mundane, slice-of-life matters. There's some of that in here, to be sure. But Audry strings together bizarre narratives involving a baby character that acts as a stand-in as well as anthropomorphic weirdos who go on a quest to find the "Double Rainbow" guy. There are psychedelic ramblings, pointed satirical strips, echoes of character designs from a dozen other cartoonists, pop-culture parodies, studies from life and some plain old great gags. This is what a daily strip should be: a free-flowing lab for ideas and experiments. Like Roher and Rotzstain, Audry is at an exciting period in his career, as he throws any number of ideas and techniques against the wall to see what will stick. I could see him concentrating on any number of directions seen in this comic, or going in a completely different direction. It's fascinating to watch artists with potential flounder a bit, daring to get better in public as they figure out what they're doing on the fly. I quite like the quality of Audry's line, as it wavers between cartoony, dense and realistic. That versatility will serve him well down the road.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 22: Sasha Steinberg


Sasha Steinberg is one of the smartest cartoonists to emerge from CCS and certainly one of its most ambitious. Combining literary aspirations, a keen political and historical consciousness and a wicked sense of humor, Steinberg's projects have ranged from exploring the history of the Stonewall riot of 1969 to a thoughtful, edgy and personal exploration of drag. Sasha Velour collects a number of stories about his drag alter-ego; what's interesting about his comics is that Steinberg closely associates the act of drawing with the act of transformation that marks drag. That is, creating one's drag persona is both a personal and political act, a transgressive action against gender and cultural conformity and "microaggressions". It's a statement of freedom, an act of self-liberation as well as a kind of aesthetic Molotov cocktail.

Sasha Velour is mostly comprised of short stories Steinberg did about his drag self in various anthologies. The melting lips on the cover are an homage to that early trans-inspired film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. There's a similar sense of camp, wild freedom and a hint of danger to be found in Steinberg's comics. Sasha Velour is an alien made of crystal with a magical ring capable of transforming the mundane to the fabulous; in the first story, he transforms a homophobe into a unicorn during a segment where the story shifts from black & white to full color as Sasha turns a "Wal-Mark" into a crystalline paradise. This is actually one of Steinberg's rougher, less accomplished stories in terms of the drawing and overall concept, but it still gets its point across. Much more complex is a Phantom-inspired piece done for Suspect Device that speaks to a historical continuum of queer ancestors and the brutal struggles they faced, framed by a clever series of tattoos and body-circumscribed drawings.Another strips where Sasha transforms into his human self is more interesting still, as Steinberg is less interested in manipulating line as he is color. Yet another strip mixes slice-of-life discussions about sex between a Hispanic mother and her gay son and three young Orthodox Jewish women, only to be interrupted by the absurdity of a dinosaur run rampant in the park. It's no coincidence that Sasha herself is sitting on a park bench.

In contrast, the comic/zine Vym has a much different aesthetic and political mission. Steinberg has noted that he's dedicated to a critique of white, affluent cis gay men and the ways in which they've allowed themselves to be mainstreamed and at the same time frequently reduced to being little more than comic relief in the wider culture, a sort of burlesque act. Billed as "The Drag Magazine", Vym explores through comics, essays and photos the ways in which drag may be defined, once again matching up the personal and DIY nature of drag to that of alternative comics: "a self-published magazine that celebrates self-published identities". The editor of Vym is actually Steinberg's partner John Jacob "Johnny Velour" Lee, another whip-smart writer with personal experience as a dancer/performer. While the comics and illustrations in the book (by Jon Chad, Laurel Lynn Leake, Romey Bensen and especially Eric Kostiuk Williams) are good, it's the photo essays that really strike a chord.

The first-person essay of drag performer Donald C. Shorter Jr is especially eloquent, as the photos highlight the transformative part of drag as part of the stage performance--the actual process of putting on makeup, adding layers of clothing, etc. It's meant to humanize instead of minstrelize, which drag is currently in danger of becoming as it becomes part of mainstream culture. That's why each of the photo essays keys in on humanizing each of the participants, from Shorter to another photo essay that features Steinberg's own transformation into Sasha Velour to K.James completing a drag transformation into male form. An interview and photo essay with Veronica Bleaus further recontextualizes images of the self-professed "worst drag queen in the Midwest" with funny and odd elements of collage. It all works, adding a touch of absurd humor to a drag queen whose stock in trade is self-deprecation with total self-respect and self-possession. The centerpiece of the issue was Leake's excellent teasing out of what drag means in its many forms. Leake notes that it's not just a matter of transformation, but of confronting the very notion of binary gender definitions. To engage in such gender-fuckery is a personal and political act of defiance. It's not being something you're not; rather, it's being yourself in the most authentic way possible. Vym promises to spotlight that authenticity using any number of styles and voices, and the first issue is a promising start.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 21: Dan Rinylo


Dan Rinylo's influences are remarkably broad. There's confessional cartooning, a deep and abiding interest in classic cartooning, a strong affinity for Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy, a certain emotionally raw and surreal storytelling urge similar to Dane Martin (and his ancestor, Mark Beyer), and a strong commitment to gags both light and dark. His excellent and stylish 2013 broadsheet Mangy Mutt is as beautiful a mini as I've seen in a long time. Much like fellow CCS alum Cole Closser, Rinylo has a knack for recreating the look and feel of classic comics. Instead of a direct take on those comics, Rinylo instead modernizes them, using a slightly grotesque but still delicately-rendered take on funny animal comics to create a weird fusion of disparate visual and conceptual influences. In his Mangy Mutt broadsheet, he evinces an amazing amount of control on the visuals: each face looks timelessly old, surrounded by flop sweat and spare but striking minor background details. His Murray the Mangy Mutt and trusty cat friend Shmedley beg for money to buy cigarettes, play terrible music to earn cash and get their pants pulled down by "Pantsy", one of many Nancy-surrogates Rinylo loves to play around with. Murray also has sex with aliens to horrifying results, ponders his mortality with glee, tries to serenade a girl he likes with horrible results and many more classically-structured gags that go in dark directions. This is funny, accomplished work.

Nothing Should Be Precious is Rinylo's grab-bag comic. It's a little more uneven and leans more heavily on the grotesque and violent end of the comedic spectrum, but there's still a tremendous amount of visual and conceptual ingenuity at work. Or rather, at play: Rinylo seems to take particular delight in playing around with familar comics and comedic tropes and images and mangling them until they are much darker and weirder. The countless Nancy variations speak to this; Rinylo seems a natural for Josh Bayer's frequently Nancy-inspired Suspect Device anthology. Rinylo's own self-caricature variants often send the reader into extended, disturbing stories. In one, an embittered Rinylo is working at a diner. Elsewhere, a man is pushed to his breaking point when he's fired from his job, he discovers his wife cheating on him and his pet fish dies. The man enters the diner just as Rinylo takes a smoke break; tragedy and mayhem break out, allowing the Rinylo stand-in to take full advantage of the situation.

There are gags involving a fish monster and a bully near a river; a hilarious BD/SM joke, various forms of body horror humor and transformations, and brutal takes on sex and relationships. The drawing ranges from sketchbook-loose and immediate to immaculately and studiously polished (no matter how simple the actual drawings are). There's a sense of a powerful outpouring of ideas in this minicomic, as Rinylo is all over the place in trying to work out his ideas on paper. It's an interesting companion piece to Mangy Mutt, because the polish in that work can be seen in some places in Nothing Should Be Precious, but both are rife with the same kind of cynical, pitch-black kinds of jokes and visuals. It was a pleasure to get to know Rinylo's work, as it struck any number of sympathetic aesthetic markers of mine.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 20: Jeff Lok, Ben Horak & Alex Kim

There's a small but growing "sick humor" arm of CCS grads. It's work that veers between humor and horror. Jeff Lok and Ben Horak personify the humor-as-horror side of things, while Alex Kim works the angle of horror-as-humor.

In Gag Rag #3, Lok's collection of strips and effluvia isn't quite as pointed and raw as earlier issues of his one-man anthology. The drawing is loose and in the tradition of classic comics: lots of bigfoot drawings, bulbous noses, spaghetti arms, and distorted figures. My favorite thing in this issue are the series of "Old Testament" strips that posit god as a sort of baker who has to deal with the bureaucracies of time and doesn't quite know what to do with his new creation, Adam. There are brutal strips about chickens, a Friday Night Lights parody that's entirely on-point about the horrible behavior of the kids and the totally unflappable nature of the coach, and several one-off single-panel gags that draw genuine laughs. That includes a gleeful, running pig squealing "I'm cured!" that works because his face is so genuinely joyful. There's a slightly lesser gag where a cop in handcuffs says "I've uncovered a ring of police impersonators! I'm the leader!" The drawing is functional at best, serving only to deliver the textual gag's excellent punchline. Lok's skill is taking familiar comedic elements and injecting them with an underlying and anarchic sense of nihilism. His difficulty is in maintaining that strong voice when he ventures off into other kinds of storytelling; a strip about a prison ship drawn in this style felt forced and mannered. A compromise of sorts could be found in his Oily comic Ox & Co. It's about an elevator operator in an old-time department store, set in the past. The vernacular of his characters makes it feel like a cousin to one of Milt Gross's many comics, but the sheer weirdness of the set-up is uniquely Lok. The brief comic works because of its density, its commitment to maintaining the integrity of its time and setting, and the darkly idiosyncratic nature of Lok's sense of humor.

Kim's Oily series Dumpling King has been astonishing me with surprises in every issue. In the span of just ten pages per issue, Kim has advanced the story from a noir mystery surrounding murder, a powerful family, an alluring woman and dumpling delivery to something entirely different. All of those elements are still present, only Kim has added mysticism, dragons, magic, witches and their towers and other craziness. All of this is done with a mix of cartoony drawings (Kim loves angular faces) and surprising amounts of detail (he loves stippling even more), and the consistency of the reality he's creating on a visual level allows for the sudden and dramatic shift from a realistic scenario to a fantastic one. The cover alone of #3, with the stippling of a cloudy night sky using negative space to indicate the moon, contrasted against the cartoony face of one of the characters gets at Kim's aesthetic. He's simultaneously creating mood while bending the reality of his world to his will. Kim is a bit slow, so savor each issue when it's published.

Horak is a fine gross-out cartoonist who likes to employ cute images in disturbing ways, and his skill with drawing only heightens both the humor and gross-out nature of his work. His best strips in his one-man anthology Grump Toast #4 are the long-form ones. The "Business Baby and Infant Insidious" are pretty much Goofus and Gallant with slightly more evil intent, as the villainous character actually wears a top hat and black cape. Horak's "autobio" take on being lost at a curiosity shop as a boy and wondering what it would have been like if his parents had taken home a lizard corpse passed off as him was hilarious because of the details: the corpse playing Little League, graduating high school, getting married, etc. Speaking of detail, the "Pinky Palms" strip, featuring a variety of monstrous and anthropomorphic creatures throws the kitchen sink at the reader in terms of weird visual gross-out gags, then reveals that it's all misdirection as it follows home the bartender to follow his seemingly idyllic life. The payoffs for this strip are tremendous, as watching bat-winged chainsaws tear through his family was both awful and hilarious. The other long-form piece, "The Bitchin' Trials and Tribulations of Cheese Hammy Sammy", is a silent, existential biker epic. It details the titular character's (everyone here is a form of anthropomorphic food, Jon Vermilyea-style) horrible and over-the-top deeds, his bun-flipping reformation and his eventual doom as the pigeons come home to roost. Horak continues to mature and refine the sheer horror of his work, and this has allowed it to become effective at multiple levels.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 19: Sophie Goldstein

Sophie Goldstein, in her time at CCS, evolved to become one of the more promising cartoonists to ever come out of the school. Her skill as a draftsman is obvious, but what's developed is her ability to couch sophisticated, sensitive commentary in science-fiction tropes. If the minis that emerged from CCS represent her graduate work, then her webcomic with writer Jenn Jordan, Darwin Carmichael Is Going To Hell, represents a sort of undergrad honors thesis. Spanning four years and 350+ pages, it manages to keep a single through line for the duration of the strip, with some wobbly tangents here and there. It's a little flabby and unfocused to be considered a single, coherent story but the strip's conceit practically demanded some kind of resolution.

The story is set in a world where every mythological being and god of every religion is quite real, and they are mostly hanging around earth looking for jobs. Ganesh is a waiter. Muses hire themselves out. The minotaur is a hard-drinking building super. Karma is real and determines one's afterlife. In the case of the titular character, he picked up a huge slab of bad karma when he didn't pay attention to a baby that he was sitting, right at the moment the baby became the newest incarnation of the Dalai Lama. The kid hit his head and became (in the unfortunate phrasingof the book) "retarded", resulting in poor Darwin's fate. No amount of good deeds done seems to be helping with his balance sheet, either. His best friend (and one-time girlfriend) Ella is the daughter of saintly missionaries, so she inherited their good karma despite having done little with her life. That kind of bureaucratic, almost arbitrary assignation of one's fate is one of my favorite things about this book, especially as it implies that both characters would need a significant shake-up to change their fates.

The way the strip was done was Goldstein & Jordan collaborated on ideas, Jordan wrote it and Goldstein drew it. It's a bit slicker and more cartoony than her current style and seemed to have drawn a lot of influence from similar strips. The strip is at its strongest when focusing on specific relationships in the context of mythology, as Jordan clearly did an extensive amount of research for each strip. It's at its weakest when the strip devolves into slacker humor or satirizing the hipsters of New York and Brooklyn. That's when the strip feels generic and loses the unique genre elements that make it funny and often disturbing. The way that myths and religious figures are brought into the modern world is frequently hilarious and on-point; while this isn't necessarily a new idea, Jordan & Goldstein manage to stay true to the original ideas without beating the reader over the head with backstory but still providing enough information to make it intelligible.

Ultimately, this is a story about relationships: the one between Darwin and Ella and the one between Darwin and his talking pet manticore, Skittles. Jordan and Goldstein are able to wring pathos out of both relationships, even though Skittles is mostly used for comic relief. There are a lot of smart jokes about relationships and the way they're writ large in this particular world of every myth being real, but there are also quite a few self-indulgent tangents that take the narrative off-track for pages at a time. I see this as a natural function of serialized web comic publishing, as both writer and artist try to find ways to stay motivated and focused over time. For example, a silly tangent about being "bike pirates" stemmed from Goldstein wanting to draw bikes. The jokes surrounding this bit were low-hanging fruit to be sure, but Jordan and Goldstein turned around and used it to reveal the intensity of the emotional relationship between Darwin and Ella. For every halting wrong turn the strip took, the authors always managed to find a way to turn it around and remain true to its overall emotional narrative. The apocalyptic climax of the strip manages to combine the character work, the mythological work and the snarky modern take on same together into a beautifully satisfying and cohesive package. There's a temptation as a critic who was once an editor to suggest cutting this or that parts of the book to make it a tidier and tighter read, but I see Darwin Carmichael Is Going To Hell as a glorious mess--and the glory can't really be separated from the mess.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Thirty Days of CCS, Day 18: Romey Bensen

It's always great to get a bunch of work all at once from a CCS cartoonist with whom I am not familiar. Let's check out a variety of projects from Romey Bensen.

The Polar Pals. Featuring a penguin and a snow bear at the Audubon Zoo (Bensen lives in New Orleans), this is a nice entry point for Bensen's work. He's certainly in the top ten percent of all CCS cartoonists when it comes to sheer drafting skill, but some of that detail here obscures the cartoony nature of the characters. There's a pleasantly mannered quality to the narrative here, which proceeds at such a slow pace that the narrative itself becomes entirely secondary to the characters and the eccentric narrative voice.

My Biblical Daydreams. This is a grab-bag of short stories featuring a variety of approaches. Bensen's angular self-caricature is a particular delight, as he invests it with a sort of stiff but neurotic energy that's both serious and amusingly self-effacing. "The Temptation of Wormwood" is the most fleshed-out story here, following a man stalked by a cat who is talked into buying a streetwise, talking fruit with an eye and teeth. It meanders amusingly and ends suddenly. Bensen's line is scratchier here, with less of an emphasis on blacks. The open page layout with panels also lets his drawings breathe a bit more. I liked that the character is a rounder, more cartoony version of Bensen's own self-caricature.

The Extraordinary #1. This is Bensen's superhero project, and it's a delight. There's something about working with characters one came up with as a child and molding them as an adult into something with a bit more substance, and it's obvious that Bensen worked hard to make this into something that's an intriguing read. Bensen mashes up a bunch of superhero and manga tropes to create his trio of superheroes and uses time-shifting narrative tricks to both keep the reader off-guard and get across information in a creative way. The comic follows a robot named Tim Tanium, a girl with vaguely-defined magical powers named Ursula Violet and a boy genius who is their team leader. This most closely recalls the Doom Patrol, but Bensen notes hints of other kid-superhero comics as well. The use of time fracturing and recycling familiar elements with a new emotional context reminds me a great deal of Paul Grist's work. The thin, almost fragile line Bensen uses here along with frequently dense hatching and cross-hatching works well here, giving old material a new coat of paint, so to speak. There's something wonderfully delicate and fragile about this comic and its characters, and seeing that level of fragility is unusual for a genre comic.

The Garden of Earthly Delight. This was Bensen's thesis comic, and it's by far his most complex and ambitious. It's a mash-up of the Bible, Hieronymous Bosch and Elzie Segar by way of R.Crumb, and Bensen's chops were up to the sheer task of cartooning this in a convincing manner. There's a good bit of misdirection in what's happening, as the narrative introduces us to Turnip Head, a primitive man who decries his lot in life because the leader of his tribe is greedy and took away his apple. A plan to usurp him by manipulating a bigger, stronger guy goes awry when the bigger guy (Trunk) kills Turnip Head after taking care of the leader. That's when we learn that the protagonist of the story is the sister of Trunk's mate. She's an artist, painting pictures on the cave wall, as she's above the others yet a non-productive in the context of her tribe. Here, sex and food are treated as more or less the same thing ("It pass the time"), and both are fundamental urges driving everything else. Only the artist here is an exception, and it has every bit to do with her inability to adapt to outside life as it does to her ability to carry insight. Bensen's sparing use of color, page layout and the patois he created for his characters breathes life into the scenario of the artist's lament: failure in their lifetime, but with the possibility of their work outliving the achievements of kings. Bensen's approach may be tongue-in-cheek and even self-effacing in this regard, but it's still very much a comic about the process of being an artist. As such, it's an appropriate first major work for an artist who has a great deal of potential.