Believe it or not, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with comics that are just fun, cute, and charming. It may not be cool to admit this in public, but nevertheless — it’s a fact.
I’m assuming that Elena Fox’s 20-page mini Dramatic Paws, published in 2019 by Atomic Books, is autobiographical in theory — she is, after all, the nominal “star” of the show — but there’s plenty of the sort of exaggeration for comic and/or dramatic effect that her type of classically-influenced “humor strip” cartooning both makes a wide berth for and, crucially, excels at. She’s a musician, so comics are only one medium she creates art in, but I’ll just cut to the chase early here and say that this is strong enough work that it leaves me hoping to see more from her in the not-too-distant future.
Her trials and travails are, admittedly, nothing too out of the ordinary — barring murder and sinus surgery, the former of which is somewhere between wishful thinking and guilty “dark side” indulgence while the latter, I’m assuming, is true — but almost everyone can relate to running late, feeling anxious, and (sadly) dealing with male chauvinist pigs, so don’t worry about finding yourself at all “out of step” with anything you find in this book. You won’t be.
And hell, you’ll be right at home if you’re easily-freaked by spiders and love our furry feline friends, both of which are ubiquitous herein and elicit entirely different reactions from Ms. Fox. Cats are so central to the proceedings, in fact, that they find themselves all over the vibrant, attention-grabbing cover and are referred to via pun in the book’s title, which is only groaningly lame when viewed out of context, and actually makes perfect thematic sense when viewed within the tonal context of the work itself, that being largely one of gently self-deprecating humor. It shouldn’t work — and maybe it doesn’t if you’re just that jaded — but it sets a tone that the contents live up to quite nicely. And, frankly, it doubles as a shorthand warning for the cynics of the world to either stay away, or to just relax and go with the flow. Assuming they can.
One of the most interesting aspects of this comic is that Fox jams a lot of visual information into each and every one of her panels, but manages to do it in a manner that achieves a king of entirely unforced visual balance that never leaves readers feeling overloaded. This is a tricky thing to pull off and many artists just toss any concerns about it aside and empty the entire contents of their subconscious onto the page — and while I’m in no position to say that such an approach doesn’t bring with it a set of charms all its own when done correctly, in point of fact erring on the side of “just enough” rather than indulging in “too much” is a learned skill that, well, not everyone learns. Fox is already an “A” student when it comes to this particular aspect of effective visual storytelling, so again — I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing where she takes things from here.
Given that we live in dark, uncertain, and even frightening times thanks to COVD-19 and the Trump administration’s partly-bungling and partly-just-plain-evil response to it, a comic like this is a welcome relief from the onslaught of bad news — but you know what? I think I’d enjoy it every bit as much under ordinary circumstances. If you’re looking to treat yourself to something that reminds you that life isn’t all doom and gloom? You could certainly do a lot worse. Why not treat yourself to a ray of cartooning sunshine? And maybe even read it with your cat purring away on your lap.
Dramatic Paws is no longer available from its publisher, but it can still be ordered for $6.00 from J.T. Yost’s Birdcage Bottom Books distro at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/comic-books/products/dramatic-paws
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