May 10, 2017

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Patrick Crotty - Internal Affairs (3)

Patrick Crotty's - "Internal Affairs 3"

I wasn't able to make it to many comics festivals in 2016, but was delighted when my friend sent me a surprise care package with some books he picked up at RIPEXPO. The highlight of the bunch was Patrick Crotty's "Internal Affairs 3". I didn't realize it at first but I'm familiar with Patrick Crotty from some recent anthologies. And then on a recent episode of "We Should Be Friends" podcast, they mentioned this book as one that Mickey Z had been vigorously proselytizing. Which makes sense, because Mickey Z's comics and "Internal Affairs 3" share a sensibility rooted in cute, manga-style characters abstracted through an art-comics lens. Where Mickey Z has an expressive mark-making style in the vein of Brian Chippendale, Crotty has more of a minimalist style, with white space and abstracted shapes with pink and blue spot-colors. What both share, though, is a sense of deceptively thoughtful and expressive off-hand style. What Zainab Akhtar described as "a studied laissez faire" in her review of Crotty's first "Internal Affairs" book in 2014.

The plot of "Internal Affairs 3" has a guy named "Onion", who is literally an onion, interning at a shitty office. After recuperating from an injury, he returns to work to find two new interns hired in his place. Soon the entire office goes on vacation leaving the interns to run the entire company in their absence.  This leads to them getting mixed up in corporate espionage, culminating in an armed raid on a competitor's office building.

The character design is loose and cartoony, like a Japanese gag comic, with outsized reactions and emotions that bend and stretch the character design for comedy. There is one full page in here where Onion's mom just does outrageous plop-takes one-after the next after finding out her son has been dumped by his girlfriend. It just beats out by a hair Alfred Hitchcock toppling over a whole crowd of onlookers in Tim Hensley's "Sir Alfred No. 3" for most over-the-top plop-take of 2016.

The real star of the show is not the character design or plot, though, it’s Crotty’s little experiments in style and form, both innovative and effective, and which appear frequently throughout the book. Like this page where Onion basks in his co-workers’ applause, a beautifully minimal and effective illustration. The pink shapes that background the sound effects look like flashes from cameras or even confetti, and a loosely-sketched Onion floats in the middle of it all, dazed in the glory of the adulation.

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Later in the book, there is a scene that recalls the climax of Matsumoto's "Gogo Monster," where Onion and Simon, a co-worker, have thrown a smoke grenade, and are being pursued across an office by heavily-armed guards. The billowing smoke abstracts their forms to barely recognizable slivers.

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It's usually not that flashy, though. One page shows Onion enduring a terrible day at the office before heading out into an indifferent city. The skyline is barely drawn but still feels well observed. The page as a whole is an impressive use of comics techniques:
  • Top tier: Body posture and squiggly emanata with blank background establish Onion's sour mood.
  • Middle tiers: Onion's body posture (tense shoulders) and emanata are de-emphasized here. The emotional tone is driven by the constrained physical space and his close proximity to his co-workers, whose inane online chatter is even more isolating.
  • Bottom tier: The larger environment sets the emotional tone here, pulling all the way out to a quiet city under a dark, smudgy sky. Using a final panel of a quiet city is a tried and true comics technique. The barely-there sleepy face emoji in the middle of the panel works like an emoji added on top of a Snapchat. It underscores the tone but also reminds you it's not life or death.
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In his write up for 2016's SPX, Rob Clough said the festival was divided between alt-comics and genre-based comics. The line is straddled all the time, though, and Mr. Crotty represents one of the more successful ways that happens. It makes sense he has popped up in the pages of Island, the monthly Image comics anthology that’s established itself as a home for genre-adjacent comics. His short piece in Island #5 isn't really genre, but rather an oddball four-page fashion shoot of fanciful harajuku-cum-manga style, heavy on bulky shoes and face coverings, along with fake brand text and model names. It's the kind of unexpected and unusual thing they do often in Island, but I wish they did more of still.

His contribution to Mould Map 4, a European politics focused anthology from 2015, is closer in style and content to "Internal Affairs 3". Sort of. It takes place among office buildings and in the context of office jobs, but it's printed in a glossy large format of the anthology, rather than the smaller risographed format of "Internal Affairs 3," and has black and gold spots rather than soft pink and blue. The combined impression of these differences is that Mould Map 4 feels a lot less elegant. It's six pages, a third of which are a silly chase scene through a multi-block long stretch limousine. The politics are also more overt, set against a backdrop of protests and unrest, with corporations as literal enemies rather than just the source of alienating and meaningless day job.  It's notable that it didn't take much of a shift in tone to fit snugly into the anthology's thematic concerns without contemporary European politics.

"Internal Affairs 3" may be slipping through the cracks a bit because it's too odd for the genre comics crowd and too cute for the art comics crowd. But it's worth a look.

"Internal Affairs 3" is 192 pages and is published on Patrick Crotty's own "Peow". It can be ordered from their website at http://peowstudio.com/shop.