Art school has been a much mined subject for comic creators. For some reason, they seem to have a love/hate relationship with the very institution wherein they learned their craft, honed their skills, met their friends, and drank themselves drunk. Is it the regret they feel for having spent all those years in a creative bubble where their future seemed fraught with possibilities and each day brought new artistic excitement? Now, trodding through the realities of a life in a world where their merits are no longer lauded on a daily basis, do they reflect upon their utopia as wasted time/money/effort? Does this bubble popped lead to castigation of the very womb from which their current sensibilities were gestated?
The waffle iron across the face that some art school grads experience upon leaving their hollowed halls can be the impetus for a creative endeavor. Joseph Remnant is exploring this in his new self-published work, Cartoon Clouds. This is a story about Seth, who, at the start of this book has just finished his final review at the College of Art and Design, is now set adrift into the world, trying to, as Remnant says, "figure out what to do with the rest of his life and largely failing in the process."
Remnant sets his sights squarely on the pretensions of both teachers and students, shooting barbs at their vanity, self-importance, and massive egos. The scene at the beginning of Cartoon Clouds in which Seth endures the bombastic posturings and masturbatory self-lauding of Professor Kaiser are particularly pointed (which made me slightly uncomfortable as Remnant draws Kaiser to look like a certain critic who may or may not be writing this review). While the pretentious art professor is a bit of a cliched character, Remnant takes his portrayal to new heights of smarminess for some real comic effect.
But it's what happens after school is done that is the focus of this book. Seth and his friends gather at a party, adrift in their new freedom, horrified at their fellow students, rudderless, and confused. What has the art school experience brought them other than to delay the inevitable? What the fuck do they do now? As Seth says in the book, "Seriously, how dumb and conceited are we all to think, even for a second, that we're all gonna become famous artists or something?"
Ironically, Remnant's art is at his best here. He crowds his panels with details, but never sacrifices the emotive quality of his characters' faces. Everyone wears their hipster hard with the requisite beards, mustaches, and tousled hair -- plaids and trucker hats, striped suits and bowties -- Remnant knows his art school graduates well and his lines are thick with that casual irony his characters so seek to portray.
Cartoon Clouds is about lost people, the products of, perhaps, just a little too much false encouragement and delusional thinking. It is about transitioning from your dreams to your life and how utterly fucking difficult that can be. It's about looking into the mirror on the very day that you no longer see reflected who you want to be; the face staring back at you is who you really are.
This is just Part One. Part Two is still in the works.