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December 13, 2013

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I'm always prepared to hate Cathy Malkasian's comics. I resisted her major debut work Percy Gloom for almost a full calendar year until near-begging on a friend's behalf made me rescue that thick hardcover volume from my will-never-read pile. Even becoming a fan fewer than 20 pages in, I had similar reservations regarding her second book with Fantagraphics, Temperance, and her latest, this year's Wake Up, Percy Gloom! I'm not sure the source of my skepticism, but I wonder if it's something akin to that initial misapprehension and subsequent lack of faith that has kept discussion of Malkasian's work away from most writer's fingertips. Malkasian's comics favor off-beat character designs and a certainty of those characters in physical space -- two hallmarks of a person making comics from an animation background. They're genuinely whimsical in a way that's hard to describe; you can describe characters in Wake Up entirely on the personal predicament they face. That kind of embodiment of personal issues is a hallmark of a lot of great cartoonists even if it's a model that tends to favor strips and other forms with a limited, serial interface.

What I find most appealing, however, in Malkasian generally and find in spades in this year's Wake Up is an emotional authenticity built less on any sort of heroic principle than a profound orientation towards joy, affirmation through conversation at the kitchen table at 4 AM waiting for an airport shuttle as opposed to high-fives following a slow walk away from an explosion. Tics and tableaux are fine and dandy, and the hero's journey drives a lot of narratives, but what we react to is human need, and Malkasian does that as gracefully as anyone in comics.