One Artist Anthologies: Jen Vaughn & Morgan Pielli

Posted by on December 19th, 2009 at 5:22 AM

Rob reviews two one-artist anthologies from the Center for Cartoon Studies.  Reviewed are MENSTRUATION STATION #1 & #2, by Jen Vaughn and INDESTRUCTIBLE UNIVERSE QUARTERLY #3, by Morgan Pielli.


MENSTRUATION STATION and DON’T HATE, MENSTRUATE by Jen Vaughn. I’ve received some unusual promotional items along with comics submitted for review in the past, but the tampon that Vaughn sent along with her menstruation-related comics was a first. MENSTRUATION STATION is a collection of gags, short stories, mix tape lists and uterus masks–all surrounding a girl’s first menstrual period (menarche). Vaughn demonstrates a total devotion to the subject with DON’T HATE, MENSTRUATE, an autobiographical account of her own menarche experience told as a 24-hour comic. While I’m not sure what drove Vaughn to throw herself so completely into this subject, she brings a delightful smart-ass sense of humor to the table. There’s a creepy strip about a boy band that takes a “pound of flesh” from its female members to ensure their immortality. There’s a rather brutal account of how to use a tampon. There’s a funny strip about a “were-pussy” being slipped an engorgement charm, with disastrous results. The comic feels a bit fragmented, slipping from gag to gag without much rhyme or reason. Vaughn’s charming character design (a bit reminiscent of Sasha Mardou) carries the comic, even if it needed more structure.

Interestingly, the 24-hour comic DON’T HATE, MENSTRUATE has a tighter framework than her shorter stories, but still maintains the spontaneity of line and gleeful approach to the subject. As an artist, Vaughn plays to her strengths. Visually, there’s little that jumps out at a reader; her chops are adequate but nothing remarkable. As such, she focuses on the expressiveness of her characters, with a finely-tuned understanding of gesture and body language. That allows her to sell gags like whispering to a variety of new schoolmates, trying to figure out the local slang on what tampons and pads are called. The way she repeats the pose from panel to panel, with the characters leaning conspiratorially with arched eyebrows, makes the already-funny joke all the more effective. I can’t help but compare these comics to Lisa Hanawalt’s brutally unflinching menstruation gags from I WANT YOU. Vaughn is a lot more light-hearted in her approach, but I’d like to see her be even more daring.

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INDESTRUCTIBLE UNIVERSE QUARTERLY #3, by Morgan Pielli.  This McSweeney’s-inspired series is a grab-bag for Pielli’s assorted short stories, and this issue began a serial.  Pielli’s comics have a strong magical realist streak to them, and this issue was no exception.  What I like about them is the way Pielli manages to subvert expectations.  The weakest story was “Dogtown Voices”, a story that also appeared in the FUNNY AMINALS anthology. It’s a riff on integration issues that was a tad on the nose in its obviousness, though well-drawn.  On the other hand, “Galatea Cup” starts in one direction (old man on a bus looks longingly at an item in an antique-store window) and winds up in quite another (a wild orgy on a bus).  The scene where the teacup the old man eventually buys morphs into a humanoid and proceeds to go down on him was a hilarious jaw-dropper.  “Driftwood” is the title of Pielli’s serial, and it’s a suitably ominous and mysterious story about a possibly sentient and certainly malevolent forest.  The image of a log rolling after one of the characters we meet and literally smashing him into leaves was chilling, suitably underplayed by Pielli’s cheerful character design and avoidance of dark shades.   Like Vaughn, Pielli makes more of an impact with the cleverness of his layout and his panel-to-panel transitions than his actual drawing, but he never overrenders and keeps his storytelling clean.

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