Interspecies Anthropology: Yasha Lizard

Posted by on June 9th, 2010 at 5:15 AM

Rob reviews the first two volumes of Kristina Stipetic’s minicomics series, YASHA LIZARD.

Kristina Stipetic seems to be the kind of cartoonist who came to comics after a longer stint or at least training in illustration.  Her pages are neat and orderly, and her line is quite crisp and precise–especially when drawing buildings or objects.  The concept behind her YASHA LIZARD series is both simply and clever.  In a society of anthropomorphic animals, how would their more noticeable biologic differences affect the way they lived?  At a basic level, how would this affect what they ate (and if sentient animals preyed on each other), and how would this affect warm-blooded vs cold-blooded creatures?  This series starts from the premise and builds from there in each short story, satirizing the ways in which arbitrary social mores become entrenched.

Stipetic starts each story much like a fairy tale, with an omniscient narrator saying “Of all God’s creatures, none was more miserable than Yasha Lizard.”  The eponymous character is constantly bundled up to stave off the cold that the city’s mammals love, and further warms himself up by drinking.  The first story sees him miserable because the town’s bars were closed by law on the day before the Sabbath as well as the day of, so he decided to do his taxes, only to find himself annoyed by mammals that continuously get in his face.

Stipetic gets a bit darker in the second story, “Yasha Lizard Attends A Banquet”.  A fellow reptilian friend Yasha meets in a bar is down on her luck, having lost her job.  Yasha says goodbye to her, having to attend a work dinner.  As it turns out, the main course is anole tail–his friend had cut off her tail and sold it, begging for money, knowing it would grow back.  Yasha finds himself in the position where he has to eat that tail or be impolite; in the end, being impolite was the unthinkable option.  The complications of culture became apparent when the tail was served, as one of the guests noted that reptiles were citizens and not to be consumed as food, and the person who obtained the tail managed to spin it so that he was doing the anole a favor.  The imagery Stipetic used on the final page of this story was very effective, as the sentient animals were shown only in silhouette, highlighting their status as predators instead of as civilized creatures.

The second issue is a none-too-subtle jab at the art world and the conflict between representation and abstraction.  Yasha works in an art gallery, and the new sensation is an abstract painting done by a pigeon.  Of course, the story’s punchline is that different animals perceive color in different ways.  To most of the civilized animals, the painting looked abstract, but to reptiles, it was obvious that it was a simple landscape.  The funniest character was a weasel art critic (naturally), whom discovers this only by accident when the original paintings from the pigeon’s exhibition were stolen.  He gets copies made by a lizard and declares that painter as merely incidental in the process of appreciating art.  “One might even say that it’s the Critic who creates art!” he crowed, beaming as though he were Superman.  It’s a cute barb and one that is understandable from a cartoonist (many of whom received a lot of flak in art school from doing representational art), but doesn’t really address the possibility of conceptual art and what forms it might take.  Still, Stipetic’s idea is a clever one, and I’m curious to see how she will continue to explore it in future issues.  I think her idea is solid enough on its own that she could probably tone down the level of satire on human cultures just a bit, or at least make it subtler.

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