Comics Time: Thickness #2

Thickness #2
Angie Wang, Lisa Hanawalt, Michael DeForge, Mickey Zacchilli, Brandon Graham, True Chubbo, Jillian Tamaki, writers/artists
Ryan Sands and Michael DeForge, editors
self-published, October 2011
60 pages
$12
Buy it from the Thickness website

Anthology of the year? I’d need to double-check some release dates, but it certainly seems that way to me. The second installment of Ryan Sands and Michael DeForge’s art-smut comics series is an intense, diverse collection of sex comics, beautifully printed and rich enough to revisit well after your first virgin read.

Michael DeForge, god help us all, continues his juggernaut run with what could well be his best comic yet. “College Girl by Night” stars a young man who’s transformed by the light of the full moon into a beautiful young woman, and uses the time to seduce and fuck college boys. His/her narrative captions don’t comment on the night-in-the-life activities depicted in the art, but rather explain the background of the transformations, her preferred conquests (tired of her “spoiled, drunken nineteen-year-olds,” she’s “made vague plans to set my sights on Edgeton professors, posing a student seeking advice after hours”), her almost idle questions about the science of it all (“Maybe if I got pregnant, it would only show when I transformed. If I even have a uterus, that is”), fictional precedents (“When Billy changed into Captain Marvel he wasn’t technically ‘transforming’…he was having his Billy Batson body physically replaced with an entirely different Captain Marvel one”), and daydreams about starting a relationship while in female form (“I once found a Missed Connection written about me on Craigslist”). It’s funny stuff, featuring DeForge’s trademark juxtaposition of the fantastic and the mundane. But it’s also really, really hot stuff. His character design for the main character’s female form is a note-perfect assemblage of alluring details: spagetti-like tendrils of hair, a dusting of freckles, a short and nearly translucent dress, long lashes that flutter when she throws her mouth open in ecstasy. But then DeForge takes the ruthlessly (if ironically) heterosexual nature of the situation (as she herself puts it, “Is it hugely unimaginative that during my time as a woman, the only activities I’ve done so far is fuck myself or get fucked?”) and crashes it right into its own subtext, reversing the transformation mid-coitus and presenting the two college guys now present on the scene with the opportunity to pick up where they left off, or not. Even if your door doesn’t swing in that direction, there’s a willingness to be led solely by pleasure and desire, a “Shhhh–no one can see, so why not?” quality, that’s hard to deny.

Brandon Graham’s “Dirty Deeds” is the most lighthearted of the contributions (well, aside from True Chubbo’s), and his sense of humor isn’t mine. It’s got this bigfooted vaudevillian underground schtickiness to it that’s just not my thing unless it’s Marc Bell. (Lots and lots of puns: “prostate of shock,” “cervix with a smile,” “I was young, I needed the monkey” — that last one’s a bit of a long story.) But that’s not to say that a breezy sex romp isn’t a welcome addition to this issue’s 31 flavors. Certainly Graham’s warm, curving line is shiny and happy enough to make up for a few jokes that leave me cold, and it’s fascinating watching him use it to achieve certain unique effects — the way he crams detail into limited segments of the page, piling line on line like a soft-serve ice cream cone, while letting the rest of the page breathe, say, which in turn lets him work wonders with images of massive science-fictional scale. And he really makes the most of Sands’s red-orange risograph’d coloring, particularly with his vivacious heroine’s hair and a sexy tan-line effect using what looks like the world’s tiniest zipatone dots. I’m kind of amazed that anything would give this Adrian Tomine print a run for its money in the “Sexiest Use of Tanlines 2011″ sweepstakes, but there you have it.

Mickey Zacchilli’s contribution is the most off-model of the bunch, a melancholy affair in which a Brian Chippendalesque lost girl loses her wedding ring and therefore enters some weird subterranean sex chamber, in which a brawny beast and a “slime worm” have their way with her as she worries about other things. What keeps her going is the promise of ice cream on the other side of the chamber, but the showstopping reverie begins with the phrase “All I could think about at that moment were all the various objects that I had never stuck in my vagina.” Arrayed in the closest thing to a clinical grid as Zacchilli’s noisy, scratchy line can muster, this assortment goes from “Yeah, okay, feasible for a curious young woman” (“screwdriver,” “chisel tip Sharpie permanent marker”) to “uh-oh” (“rawhide dog bone,” “rotting arm,” “disembodied head”). When added to the brusque treatment she receives from the creature who lets her in — “Thru the door Alice, Jeanette, Angie, whatever” he says, her identity unimportant — and her tears when she discovers the ice cream shop is closed, it makes for a distressing portrait of disconnect between mind and body, thought and deed.

Dare I call Angie Wang’s contribution erotica rather than smut? Wang offers a four-page start-to-finish portrait of two women — one seemingly shy or hesitant, the other taking charge — having sex. Each panel depicts a discrete body part or moment of connection. It’s a familiar panoptic effect for this kind of thing, and I usually find it to be a bit false to the experience of sex, presenting it as a sort of greatest-hits grab bag rather than a journey from start to finish where the momentum, the upping of the ante from moment to moment, is key. But Wang cleverly jettisons the mishmash approach with an array of techniques: ratcheting the panel grid back from page to page, from 16 to 9 to 4 to a final, climactic (pun intended) splash page; using tangents to connect one panel to the next; paring away dialogue and sound as she goes; altering the focus of each page, from foreplay to initial genital contact to climax to afterglow. Whether despite or because of its delicate, painterly line, it’s got oomph.

Lisa Hanawalt’s contribution is profoundly Hanawaltian. Using the tried-and-true porn setup of the teacher with the hot student, she subverts (or heightens, depending on what you’re into) the fantasy by having the pair’s taboo rendez-vous take place in full view of the rest of the class; the teacher doesn’t even stop delivering his lesson on unreliable narrators (“the narrator makes mistakes” he says as he unzips his fly). Hanawalt apes the male focus on individual body parts with alarming accuracy: “Oh god, her tits! Tiiiiiits…And that ASS,” thinks the teacher over a series of panels focusing on the student’s curves with that familiar combination of thumbs-up celebration and lizard-brain leer. Oh, did I mention she short-circuits the whole thing by giving the girl the featureless conical head of a worm while stuffing her cleavage with fibrous miniature worms, and by giving the bird-headed teacher a penis that itself ends in a bird’s head, which literally vomits its semen all over her ass and vagina when he pulls out? When she slaps a David Lee Roth-referencing “CLASS DISMISSED!” on the final panel, I’m not sure whether to run for the door or stay for extra credit.

The final two contributions hearken back to Sands’s zine roots: Ray Sohn and his anonymous wife serve up one of the funniest, grossest True Chubbo strips to date (you’ll love the Lawrence of Arabia “NO PRISONERS!” quote, especially once you see the context in which it’s being quoted), while Jillian Tamaki’s centerfold pinup intrigues with its incongruous details — a monumental topless woman kneels amid lush flowers and a small army of Russian doll-like people-shaped dildos (I think?), her implacable gaze juxtaposed with her very human bikini-area stubble and a big goofy digital watch on her wrist. They give Thickness #2 a welcome diversity of form as well as content, a “hey, here’s everything that was fit to print” feel.

Thickness #2 is the real deal: talented, fearless cartoonists working in that viscous red zone of pleasure, terror, filth, and fun where the only thing that matters is what the body does and doesn’t want, and your brain is simply forced to go along for the ride. Bravo, thumbs up, panties down.

2 Responses to Comics Time: Thickness #2

  1. [...] Sean T. Collins has coined the word “Hanawaltian” is his glowing in-depth review of Thickness #2. [...]

  2. Ryan Sands = Print Genius