4/24/2009

Elephantmen #18 - "Bad Girl"

The decision to hand over Elephantmen's art to Marian Churchland for the next three issues keeps in-line with the series' constant curveballs but it also just makes sense. Starkings was wise to see that the very-good but fairly typical comic art of the rest of the series just wouldn't fly for "Bad Girl"--an emotionally raw focus on Miki, friend of Hipflask.

There'd just be something kinda off about the thick line and dark-darks of the series employed to illustrate Miki finding out she's pregnant and wrestling around with all the anger and shame she feels towards her traditionalist mom and her like, inner transgressive feelings about sex and species and self. If this played-out through the the meaty, puffed-up art of the rest of previous issues, it would've felt a little seedy and even condescending .

Churchland's art, all relatively rough lines, filled-in with markers and employing a color-scheme that looks a Moebius trade left out in the sun for week, goes for a purposefully less confident--or less cocky might be a better way of putting it--style that adds a dose of realism that the series has never really demanded from its art before. Not that there aren't plenty of moments of realism or naturalism in Elephantmen, just that for the first time in the series, the story requires something kinder and less over-the-top.

When Miki's caught by her mom painting these erotic images of humans with Elephantmen and retreats to the bathroom, we cut between her in the shower (half-angry at Mom, half self-loathing) and a flashback, chance hook-up with a guy--presumably someone she met while driving her Skycab--and although it's overtly sexual and desperate, it never feels gritty and's entirely absent of that nearly impossible to shake sense of Cinemax sexuality that even rape scenes in comics can't escape.

The cross-cutting builds to a full-page image of Miki sitting on toilet, legs realistically turned inwards, staring at a "positive" pregnancy test. Some magazines sit on the floor, along with a history of Egypt book, her clothes, and the Nernie icon on a shampoo bottle, as a non-lacey, just regular old bra hangs halfway off the sink. These minor details add a realism and even a disorganized pathos that rushes through the story of the troubled Miki character. This is what David was talking about when he invoked the absence of female artists in comics...not some "equal opportunity" type thing but that a whole wealth of talent and experience is kinda sorta pushed out of comics because big-titty bitches and unnecessary sexuality's still the name of the game. The joke of course, is that there's something way more attractive and exciting about Churchland and Starkings' devotion to naturalism that over-the-top fantasist images of females cannot approach.

But this isn't the big dumb comic book hiring some oh-so-sensitive "comix" artist to do the story either, because Churchland's work is just as in-love with comics as Ladronn or Moritat or Bo Cook's work. Probably the best example is the two, full-page, panel-less pages Churchland employs to illustrate Miki's history of the Hippo to Hipflask as she's getting whatever form of abortion/baby removal that goes on in the year 2259.

These pages are straight out of old X-Men or Savage Sword of Conan books, with blocks of text and world bubbles floating around some art that you can tell just by looking at it, was a huge thrill for the artist to draw. And there's tiny details too, like the way Churchland illustrates the holographic, future technology as these weird icy squiggles around the clocks, talking TV screens, and the mechanized voice of the robot that delivers Flask's present from Miki at the end of the story, like she's really sat back and tried to inhabit the future world of the Elephantmen with her pencils and markers not just performed "future sci-fi" like an art-school robot.

See, the art of a lot of non-conventional comics artists or "comix" artists doesn't really seem like it wants anything to do with the history of their medium and it's frustrating. Churchland doesn't have that problem and each pages reads like a person that, as it says in her bio "was raised on a strict diet of fine literature and epic fantasy video games", which is just about perfect for Elephantmen.

2 comments:

samax said...

elephantmen is one of the best comics out there. it is so weird and fantastic (in the literal sense) that i can't believe it sometimes!

BG said...

It might be way too close to home for me to say anything.
But, I liked the issue too.

I'm excited to see some of the other artists Starkings has got coming up on future issues too.

I look forward to hearing what you dudes think of Marians work when she writes it.