Process: Make

Posted by on November 24th, 2010 at 5:14 AM

Rob reviews the Robyn Chapman-edited anthology, Make.

To put it simply, Make is an anthology about the act of human defecation and the ramifications thereof.  One would expect an anthology devoted to scatology to be one that went after cheap laughs and gross-outs.  While there’s a bit of both to be found here, Make is actually a sensitive take on the ways in which the processes of our own bodies disgust us and how talking about this out loud can reduce this self-revulsion.  Editor Robyn Chapman lovingly created a package that is as beautiful and intricate as the act is repulsive, with an elaborate inside front cover wrapping around the “insides” (content) and instruction card in the back encouraging the reader to draw what they think their own insides look like.  This reflects Chapman’s ambition to normalize both the discussion of and the actual conditions that can make digestion a humiliating experience.

For example, Chapman suffers from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a condition exacerbated by stress that in itself can also induce stress.  This vicious circle is something that leads to embarrassment in social situations, something that Chapman humorously depicts in her story.  Of course, the medical procedures that suss this sort of thing out are humiliating in their own right, especially when one has to evaluate one’s own stool and “grade” it.  IBS has no cure, but Chapman’s willingness to discuss her problem with friends (and in turn, create this comic) is the cure for embarrassment.  Her bold but clear line is perfectly suited for humor, especially in the way she draws herself.

The stories by Jason Martin, Nate Beaty and Melissa Mendes fall roughly into the same category.  Martin’s “Crapshoot” is an amusing choose-your-own-adventure game where one has to guess where the best public restrooms might be.  Beaty’s “Evacuate” details a series of acts of nature that denied him a chance to get home quickly and change after he lost control of his bowels in an elevator, including an LA wildfire and a ridiculous traffic jam that forced him to evacuate his house.  Mendes’ is the best strip of all, depicting how her body betrayed her true emotions.  When trying to break up with a boyfriend, she at first started to backtrack when he protested, and then vomited on him (and lost control of her bowels).  Anthropomorphizing her stomach and depicting her emesis as a patchwork series of patterned lines added some clever visual flair to this depiction.

The visual centerpieces of the anthology come from Joseph Lambert and Jose-Luis Olivares.  Lambert, in a series of four-panel grids, depicts an argument between a couple suddenly turning into a surreal series of events as a giant bear eats the house that the man’s partner is in and then takes a shit.  Surrounded by the scribbled lines representing the harsh words that he spoke, his solution is to create a house out of the bear’s droppings and encourage the bear to eat it.  That forces the bear to vomit up the houses he ate and lead to a hilarious punchline to this shaggy-dog tale.  Lambert’s control over his line allows him to engage in a level of exaggeration that’s simply delightful.  His stories always tend to have a visceral component, so this subject was right in line with his usual subject matter.  That’s because his stories tend to have a little-kid sense of logic to them, where outsized emotions tend to be writ large on the page.

Olivares, using a thick line and lots of grey, creates a visual narrative depicting an artist using his own shit as a medium for sculpture, creating a likeness of himself that he takes around until it dissolves.  When he tries to create another version, the written narrative asks if poo is the first thing we make (our first expression of art, as it were), what does it say to what we’re made of?  It’s visceral in a manner different from Lambert in that it gets at the heart of human pretension and the ways  that we think of ourselves as anything other than meat, bone, and liquid is just our attempt at deceiving ourselves.

The anthology is bookended by Adriana Yugovich’s gross-out about potentially having worms and the way in which her boyfriend found out about his own, and Maris Wicks’ cheerful ode to the helpful bacteria that live in our intestine.  It’s a fitting send-off to a typically upbeat Chapman collaborative effort, one that doesn’t exactly celebrate the difficulties we have with our own bodies, but that at least celebrates the ways in which we can laugh at these struggles.

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2 Responses to “Process: Make

  1. Ben Cohen says:

    Robyn is a friend of mine. The kind you have known a long time, where you exchange Christmas cards every year (I make mine and they are swell, but I look forward to Robyn and Dennis’s every year…to show me how it’s done). But beyond that we always communicated in larger social scenes; classes at SCAD, as members of the sequential art club, when I visit CCS, a Con, Facebook. From this distance and infrequency I have seen her grow from a wonderfully mysterious oddity (even for art school) to nothing less then the nuts and bolts of CCS. Her unassuming nature now complimented by a likable ascendancy still allows me to marvel at her work. In our class at SCAD she was the cream of the crop, but few beyond James Sturm where quite aware of this. Her drafting was never flashy or even commanding. This unassuming style, mirrored our perceptions of her. However, she was quietly advancing beyond us in the fundamentals of cartooning. Winning a Xeric, being featured in a book by Trina Robbins, a being featured in TCJ. Her move to White River and her role at CCS was not a surprise by the time it happened. She had earned our respect. Her growth in printmaking while there only broadened her appeal. Her role in helping shape the future new  cartoonist may perhaps be her most lasting legacy. But for me, from my perspective, her ability to contradict her persona from this vantage with work that is so intimate and daring. She inspires me, and illustrates how limited I am communicating with comics, when otherwise I feel no limitations. This anthology seems well executed (ala her experience at CCS and printmaking abilities) and she continues to push those who satellite her to dare as she does to express  on the page, what they think, but we may not outwardly perceive. Our mistake and underestimation. I can’t wait to get my hands on this gem, and get schooled…AGAIN.