#1 by Uno Moralez #2 by Hellen Jo, Youth in Decline, San Francisco (USA), May and September 2013, 32 pages and $8 each.
The most of you probably already know Frontier, the "monograph art and comics series" published by Ryan Sands' new imprint, Youth in Decline. Frontier debuted last May with an issue realized by Russian artist Uno Moralez, followed in September by Hellen Jo's book, and it has a very good schedule for this year, with four new publications (you can check the online subscription here). Ryan Sands' wish is to display innovative and stunning art and I'm glad to say with the first two issues the goal is totally achieved.
Uno Moralez's work is one of a kind. As you can see on his website, he's mostly a digital artist, able to realize animated gifs. One of these animated drawings is reproduced in printed form on Frontier #1 cover, an evocative scene of a burning shack with a man at its side in which the pixel effect, a trademark of Moralez, seems to light up the flames and at the same time gives an enigmatic aura at the man. The same topic is also inside the book, but this time the house is in the background: the main subject are two girls on the run and an anthropomorphic bird carrying an human head, making us ask if they deal with the fire and if the building is the same reproduced on the cover. This is a way a lot of figurative artists work and Moralez follows this method, because all his images are full of cross references and recurring themes. He does also some narrative and mute comics, as the one at the beginning of the book, rendered in a beautiful two-color, teal and black.
The first image recalls immediately David Lynch's Blue Velvet. The visionary director is a clear source of inspiration for Moralez, who doesn't hide this fascination, in fact on his website we find also a portrait of agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks. With a style and an atmosphere recalling fifties comics (I see something of Basil Wolverton here), Moralez tells the story of a girl singing in a club about a distant lover. After the show she is humiliated by her boss and then robbed and raped by two guys. When she goes to tell the cops her drama, she is completely ignored. So she goes home and prays in front of a statue of Virgin Mary and a portrait of her and her boyfriend, a sailor. At this point the comic becomes a sort of nightmare and we literally enter in a vortex made of holy images and references to Russian folklore. The lovers are symbolically brought back together in the ocean, but this isn't a good omen.
It's interesting to notice how some of the themes in this first tale come back in other parts of the book. Moralez seems to have a passion for vortexes, monsters, long tongues, long hairs, men in uniform, brunettes, mermaids, sailors, strange wall paper and this allows him to create a well-defined world and a recognizable style, that goes further beyond horror-art. He's also a talented artist when he uses the color, as we see in a beautiful illustration in fluorescent pink, and a manga lover, as we can appreciate in a drawing of a two-faced women threatened by a snake and in a comic about a boy running away from a monster. The last image of the book shows another proof of his skills. He decontextualize an image published on his website and make us ask why the strange beast who is abusing a woman in a white dress is scared while she seems pleased. Well, in the full image there are also some men approaching with a torch and a cross in their hands to save the woman, but the readers of the book who won't check the website will never know. Thanks to Ryan Sands and Youth in Decline to let me know this amazing artist.
I already knew Hellen Jo as a cartoonist from her first and till now only issue of Jin & Jam, published in 2008 by Sparkplug Comics and then self-reprinted in 2012. In Frontier #2 there is only the work as an artist of the thirty-year old and San Francisco-based Jo, even if some of the girls painted and penciled in this book can remind the characters Ting and Terng from Jin & Jam. However, the drawings are now more refined and we can see a remarkable evolution of Jo's style. The characters of Jo's art are mainly teenage girls and in particular, as she says in the interview at the end of the book, "the girls I admired & despised on the schoolyard, girls whom I secretely wanted to be, girls who treated me like shit". So we have groups of girls smoking, skating, painting on the walls, going to college, applying lipstick, doing haircuts and wearing piercings, swimsuits, hats, leopard dresses, feather boas, big sunglasses and so on. They have white, grey, blue, green, red and blonde hairs, most of the time they are in a gang with a cool name and have a threatening gaze, as if they want to hurt you. And they hurt themselves for sure, since Jo's girls are often covered in blood. Frontier #2 is one more great book from an imprint that isn't missing a shot. I'm already waiting for issue 3 with three comics by German cartoonist Sascha Hommer, coming in February, followed in the next months by Ping Zhu (April/May), Sam Alden (September) and Emily Carroll (November).