Fables & Legends From Katherine Roy & Ross Wood Studlar

Posted by on October 23rd, 2010 at 5:17 AM

Rob continues his month of reviewing CCS students and alums by reviewing Spots & Egypt, by Katherine Roy; and The Raven And The Crayfish,  by Ross Wood Studlar.

Spots and Egypt, by Katherine Roy.  Roy is a gifted illustrator with a light touch reminiscent of Jeff Smith.  Her comic about a young caterpillar, Spots, could have been a try-out for a slot in the Toon Books rotation.  Her line is playful and supple, and it’s obvious she has great control over it.  Her composition is clever and engaging, with figures dipping out of panels.  Her panel-to-panel flow is perfect for this story about a caterpillar who dreads growing up and makes friends with a squid.  Roy also subtly injects a bit of dark humor when the teacher at the beginning of the story matter-of-factly rattles off the life cycle of a caterpillar and its eventual, grim conclusion.  She substitutes typical coming-of-age teenage concerns with references to spots and pupating, to fine comedic effect.  This comic is charming without being cloying.

Egypt is part comics diary and part sketchbook of Roy’s trip to Europe with her husband.  Here, Roy gets to show off how sharp her rough pencils are as well as a gorgeous color sense.  The actual details of the trip weren’t all that interesting, but her use of colored pencils made her illustrations pop up, especially when combined with the loose immediacy of her scribbly line.  Nothing about Roy’s work stands out as especially innovative; she’s simply a talented writer and artist who has a bright future ahead of her doing all-ages or slice-of-life comics.

The Raven and the Crayfish, by Ross Wood Studlar.  Studlar takes a fascinating Pacific Northwest Native American legend and spins it into a clever narrative.  Essentially, it’s about Raven trying to gain permanent sustenance from a huge lake guarded by a giant, humanoid Crayfish.  The back-and-forth between the two antagonists is enormously clever, as the Raven used his human worshipers in an effort to fool the Crayfish.  The Raven couldn’t get the lake, but the Crayfish wasn’t quite able to finish off Raven, either.  Studlar concludes the comic by telling a tale of white men who try to stock the lake with fish, only to see them die off from the lake’s natural radioactivity–much like Raven’s agents couldn’t get fish to kill off the crayfish in the lake.

When Studlar stuck to depicting his characters in silhouette, as he did for Raven throughout the story, his comic has a stark, primitive energy.  His loose, open storytelling style (with no panel borders) resembles an illustrated book (or perhaps a cave painting) as much as it does a comic.  The problems with this comic arrive when Studlar tries to render naturalistic figures.  His human figures are awkward both in terms of basic draftsmanship as well as their relationship to one another.  The biggest problem is the design of the Crayfish.  It’s not a compelling figure as its sloppily drawn, with a messy scrawl for hair and weird anatomical poses.  Close-ups revealing the monstrous nature of the creature were effective, but the overall effect was almost a comical one, instead of a frightening or freaky one.  I don’t think this was what Studlar was going after.  Like many a student project, this one has a number of positive qualities but needs to be redrawn.

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