The Comics of Adam Meuse

Posted by on December 25th, 2010 at 5:48 AM

Rob reviews three comics by Adam Meuse: Social Insect, Sad Animals and Some Mayan Glyphs.

Adam Meuse is an artist not widely known in comics circles but whose comics have become something of a local sensation in certain comics shops.  A resident of Garner, North Carolina, his comics are huge sellers at the best shop in the state, Chapel Hill Comics.  I think the tension at the heart of his images and ideas is what draws people to his minicomics, as they are both funny and painful to read.  The frequent stillness of the image is disturbed by a very human emotion depicted through a thought balloon.  That tension is then varied and repeated for page after page.  Rather than growing tiresome, that accumulation of images builds comedic momentum, as the reader wonders what Meuse is going to do next.

Sad Animals is probably his best known comic, and it certainly packs the most punch.  It’s an exploration of self-loathing and depression as seen through the eyes of cutely-drawn animals, with one image per page.  Seeing a tiny worm hanging off a thread thinking “Am I living a lie?” or an adorable porcupine saying “Why am I such an asshole sometimes?” is funny on a number of levels.  The most obvious is the juxtaposition of human misery on otherwise cute animals.  The second level satirizes the way we often ascribe human emotions to animals, even though there’s not much crossover.  The third level satirizes people who wallow in misery, since humans are really just another sort of “sad animal”.  It’s a gentle poke, to be sure, but the way Meuse isolates these animals on the page is no coincidence: only humans, with no worries of predation, have the luxury to be depressed and isolate themselves.

Social Insect is a more loosely-knitted collection of strips about the opposite idea: it’s about how we align ourselves with others.  There are several strong pieces here, starting with a strip about a man whose eyes grew so large that he was no longer able to focus in on his wife or child.  There’s a page where we see his family from his point of view, as his wife, daughter and window are all part of the same fractured foreground.  There’s no resolution here, just a sad statement from him that says “I can’t even look at the nothing”.  In a set of images more akin to Sad Animals, we see the backs of cars anthropomorphized into human faces, all trying to comfort a car that’s crying with the worst of platitudes.  The goofiness of their expressions contrasts with the heartfelt but greatly abbreviated sentiment of pity, an emotion that is not always altruistic.  Meue concludes the comic with the ultimate confused state regarding interaction: a sentient beach and sentient ocean intermingling quietly (with sentient sky looking on), until the beach suddenly asks the shore “Are we frenching?”  It’s a tremendous gag that gets at the heart of the theme of this comic: where do we begin and others end in terms of our interactions with them?

Lastly, Some Mayan Glyphs is a series of illustrations adapted from a dictionary containing images of Mayan glyphs.  Meuse quickly seized upon how much like comics icons those glyphs were and went to town copying them and modifying their appearance.  He used a thick line to separate each character from the white space on the rest of the page and a thinner line to render details inside each image.  The images are adorable and slightly unsettling, like something out of Jim Woodring comic.  While not a narrative in any sense, Some Mayan Glyphs does get across a sense of character.  Each drawing is deceptively simple, yet the designs and faces are so expressive that one can’t help but feel being drawn to these characters, wishing to know more about them.  This comic speaks to the power of character design and how it can create worlds around particular characters, even with very little narrative information to go on.  Indeed, that’s Meuse’s biggest strength as a cartoonist to date.

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