Thursday, September 26, 2013

2013 Zook Comicpalooza Commission by Amanda Lafrenais

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Amanda Lafrenais is the creator of the free webcomic Love Me Nice, which I'll happily link to, and a contributor to the subscription-only adult erotic anthology Slipshine, which you'll have to get to on your own (keeping it PG, y'all.) Love Me Nice is about the behind-the-scenes antics of actors from a TV show in a universe where cartoons characters and average folk interact, and looks like fun.

One of the themes of the strip is that the 'toons and the more humanoid/anime characters are the same species, but the former was treated as lesser beings until recent times. Zook is a character that artists sometimes struggle with, treating him as purely an animal or an alien, when his other-dimensional nature is more like a cartoon made flesh in a straightforward super-hero strip. Lafrenais is uniquely suited to interpret Zook's conflicted nature, juxtaposing the animated aesthetic with a more realistic infantile body, both cute and slightly unnerving. It's like an unintentional inversion of Mark Ryden; a completely innocent and sweet drawing of a creature the mind perceives as ever so slightly "wrong" because of too much lifelike reality mingled into its DNA.

Zook is a polarizing character among Martian Manhunter fans, with his pidgin English/baby talk and his representing a period where the strip shifted toward odd monster of the month fare ever more divorced from the pseudo-reality of the original sci-fi crime strip. I personally found Zook a bright spot during a creatively dire period, and I find it interesting how Lafrenais' interpretation confronts "the haters" with the inherent, blameless naiveté of the creature. How can you be disdainful of something so defenseless and pure, the manifestation of editor Jack Schiff's attempt to allow a comic strip to remain wholly owned by the children that once read it? Instead, the already increasingly sophomoric and demanding man-children that would consume the comic medium were soon given Marco Xavier, Vulture, and a grimness ahead of its time.

I thoroughly enjoy Amanda Lafrenais' piece, both for the craft demonstrated in the caricature/anatomy/coloring and for the recontextualization of the character it inspires. Lafrenais is also one of the friendliest and most enthusiastic artists I have ever met, speaking openly and giddily with fans as friends. A passing mention of her work's resemblance to Ross Cambell launches an anecdote about the mutual admiration society they ended up forming. She laughs unreservedly, and seems fully immersed in the joy that can come from this medium, too often drowned out by age and cynicism. Both her art and her persona are a reminder of why so many of us are devoted to comics, and I recommend visiting her at a convention if you get the opportunity as a four color homeopathic alternative to SSRIs.

Amanda Lafrenais' web site is a nice place to visit, but please remember that many links there are VERY NOT SAFE FOR WORK!

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