Fun ‘n’ Games From Matt Aucoin & Betsey Swardlick

Posted by on October 27th, 2010 at 5:17 AM

Rob continues his focus on Center for Cartoon Studies folks by reviewing Double-Think by Matt Aucoin; and Poor, Poor Angsty Hungarian by Betsey Swardlick.

Betsey Swardlick is the sort of cartoonist whose voice is so distinct that all of her comics wind up looking and sounding the same, regardless of subject.  This is not a bad thing, considering that that voice is so consistently amusing and her character design is so charming.  Swardlick likes taking on genre concerns and turning them into slice-of-life slacker tales, and her Poor, Poor Angsty Hungarian series is no exception.  Like her Failwolves series, Swardlick likes taking two similar characters and bouncing them off each other as they engage in ever-escalating hi-jinks.  This series is a spoof of fairy tales as a Hungarian prince is kicked out of his kingdom by his father and winds up teaming up with an exiled Moldavian prince to seek out a new life.  All of the familiar fairy tale-trappings are there: magic eggs, talking bars of soap, a king who cries out of one eye all the time and laughs on the other side of his face all the time, etc.  However, all of the dialogue is modern vernacular (like all of Swardlick’s characters), as are many of the references.

The second issue of the series finds the princes setting up in an abandoned Jewish/Scottish deli (MacRabinowitz’s), living in the modern world.  Swardlick was clearly more confident and ambitious in her design of this comic, using lettering as a more decorative aspect of her storytelling (not unlike the way a child’s book might).  Her figures were more boldly defined while her pages were more clearly designed.  Swardlick is an example of an artist who clearly understood exactly what kind of cartoonist she wanted to be early in her career and has spent her time refining her work.  She’s carved out a unique sort of slacker-humor with clearly defined character voices and an excellent sense of comic timing.  Her next step of development will be in creating a sustained narrative that maintains that smart-ass sense of humor without becoming grating.

In contrast with Swardick, Matt Aucoin is a cartoonist still trying to find a voice.  His DoubleThink #8 is his tribute to the sort of slice-of-life observational autobio comics at which John Porcellino excels.  These comics were done hastily, sketchbook-style, and have a great deal of energy and warmth.  Of course, Porcellino’s comics are all about stillness and pauses, so they couldn’t be any more different, but it’s that difference makes them appealing.  Aucoin draws bulbous figures with bulging eyes, big noses and cartoony expressions.  That said, his DoubleThink collection shows Aucoin doing seven stories in seven different styles.

“Godman” was done in his base style, combined with a touch of S. Clay Wilson by way of Phil Foglio (especially in the way he uses eyebrows to denote expression).  It’s a drunken, metaphysical fairy tale that at times looks quite impressive visually and other times looks rushed.  “I Wish I Never Met You” is a clear-line, delicately-rendered story about a tragic relationship that’s all-too-earnest.  “Shampoo Revenge” is a slice-of-life story about a nebbish and his college roommate done in a thick line with figures that slightly resemble video game characters.  That video game aesthetic is a big influence on Aucoin’s work, even if the nebbish slightly resembles a Tony Consiglio character.  “Darrell” uses a simplified line in a story about two kids worrying about death.  Aucoin really hit on something here; both characters are interesting to look at, and in their voices Aucoin manages to combine childhood slang, humor and genuine emotional concerns.  I still can’t quite figure out what direction Aucoin will wind up embracing, and whether it will be the best fit for his talent.  It will be fascinating to see him try to see him develop in public, throwing out any number of approaches to see what sticks.

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