Behind the bright, fluorescent palettes and at times overwhelming visual blitz of both familiar and obscured images, the anthology Spider’s Pee-Paw #2 takes a stab at staging a refreshing take on the rather jockey presence of Tumblr aesthetics, unabashedly moshing together pieces that explore the moments where visual and material culture interface. Edited by Char Esme and Ben Mendelewicz, this follow up features the same troupe of cartoonists and artists as the first Spider’s Pee-Paw, as they continue pushing towards a sensory overload for a prevailingly distracted audience. Digitized photo-montage, mixed media collage, and even traditional pen-and-ink comics all co-mingle and assimilate within this distinctly millennial collection,as these young artists both celebrate and scrutinize the phenomenon of our network age high-low plurality. Many of the pieces fall between sketches of a cartoon psychedelic trip with a sense of Photoshop assisted abstract expressionism. While these works are quite fractured and occasionally meandering in their articulation, Spider’s Pee-Paw #2 undeniably makes a case for the potential unchartered experimentation in comics, voicing the emergent individuality of creators who are open to the constantly shifting context of comic’s visual nature.
Regardless if you look at Spider’s Pee-Paw #2 as an example of today’s internet, new media, net/web, or whatever “post” art form you decide to latch onto, I like to believe that its creators share a belief that art, following the ascent of dominant internet society and social media, has become more resilient and expanded in its form, and accordingly broadens the use of the internet as their sole platform. Skimming the anthology’s pages, it is easy to think that many of the contributions would excel via the hyper-pixelated optics our MacBooks and iPads can provide, however, the physical compilation of the many visual elements allow for a reading that mirrors the experience of the compulsive clicking and surfing that often comes with the never-ending re-blogs and links of the web. Much like the recycled images in Mark Mathew’s and Xela Flactem’s pieces, the internet similarly serves as an intentional found material, its numerous sources are intentionally plucked and displaced to formulate one big distorted reality. This ethos is one which advocates the fickle and unstable nature of popular culture, yet does so in a way where the content and tone synchronously pay homage and subvert the trends of our hyper-capitalistic society. The work here is accomplished with a nuanced touch—brimming with a sense of the bizarre, kitsch, and disturbing.
Lauren Poor is mostly known as a photographer who imbues her work with a girlhood subconscious, creating a mystical fantasy that is at play with the glitches and oddities of beauty through exaggerated make-up and colorfully visionary environments. Here, Poor presents a composition of digitally manipulated photos showing male and female models, layered with a barrage of graphic backgrounds and hyper-concentrated colors. She fashions her subject as a process of media-enhanced body image, bringing into play other senses than the visual, applying the use of familiar iconography from childhood as well as the internet. Laced with the effects of flamboyant app Blingee, nostalgic symbols like clowns and scribbled dolls, Poor opens up the subjectivity of body image through computer-enhanced means to show a multi-sensory experience of how we appropriate values of beauty aside from pictaresque cover girls or immaculate fashion models. Although she does not mark her images with text, Poor conceives a cross-discursivity of narrative in the digital altering of her photographs. Her photo-paintings stand as a post-Internet version of multimedia comics collage, likening a Lynda Barry-inspired experimentation with the depths of the inner and outer realms of creation and imagination. The narrative is free-flowing and borders on simple, but what does succeed in standing out is Poor’s visual thinking, resignifying the detritus of girlhood by aesthetically revisioning it through the current practice of internet DIY culture.
Char Esme’s contribution, titled “Mauvette’s,” is another visual wunderkammer, a comics funhouse presenting an array of carvinalesque characters drawn with juicy pop colors and hues. Having worked in a number of mixed medias (including fibers and digitized collage), Esme’s piece here is surprisingly executed with what looks like mostly colored pens, giving “Mauvette’s” a distinctive mark of the hand. Mixing a playful, childlike display of commodity fetishism (cut-out ads for “MIRROR TABLEWARE”) with a seizure-inducing rehandling of familiar nursery rhyme characters (Humpty Dumpty is mutated into a horrific spidery behemoth), Esme makes no reservations about the sheer absurdity of her art and expressly skirts the fine line between what is attractive and what is repulsive. I read “Mauvette’s” entirely as a comic but what Esme does with its structure is brush off any set rules of composition, as once you pass through the warped tunnel into “Mauvette’s,” you submit to entering Esme’s psychedelic madhouse, a surreal dreamscape that displays the valuelessness in our pursuit for perfection. The reader is immediately consumed by the parade of vibrant and vigorous coloring, yet this immersion acts as an in-your-face critique of a culture of commodities plagued by empty consumerism. “Mauvette’s” is so voracious in its aesthetic that as a reader, you can’t passively be carried through her comic in the way that the advertising and entertainment industry constantly plug products and promises of instant gratification.
With Ben Mendelewicz’s back cover for the much hyped Mould Map 3 and an increasing number of cartoonists delving into computer/comic/art experimentation, it will be interesting to see if Spider’s Pee-Paw and similar minded anthologies have a longevity in the future. As a majority of its contributers are still rather young, it remains to be seen how their art and stylistic demeanor will develop, but as of now, Spider’s Pee-Paw #2 stands as an expressive means for a quasi-self searching journey, in which there is no definite destination, no questions resolved, and ultimately no choices to be made. What the comics do offer up is a candy-coated visual exercise in processing our already hybrid reality.
If you’d like to get your hands on Spider’s Pee-Paw #1 and #2, check out the SKUNK SHOP.