Friday, October 27, 2017

TURNING FAMILY DYSFUNCTION INTO PURE ART: Nick Hanover reviews GORO by Sarah Horrocks

(Editor's Note: The following is the second of what I hope to be many contributions to this site from other writers writing about off-the-radar small press books being published today. If you're interested in contributing to this endeavor -- and getting paid to do so -- please pitch me at YCEReviews@Gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter @DanielElkin and let's see if we can work together.)
 

A closeted gay muscle man avoids responsibility while hiding out in a squalid Colombian hotel room, becoming literally entangled while speaking to his ex-wife on the phone. Elsewhere, a trans woman sits in a sterile nursing home, informing a nurse that she visits her father so often not because she loves him, but because she hates him and likes watching him be humiliated. A lean deputy visits a sex worker who despises him, demanding she call him by his dead brother’s name. These are the opening images of Sarah Horrocks’ new series Goro, immediately setting a tone of raw family hate against a backdrop of inky spaces and figures that frequently break out of the boundaries of their panels, rebellion and bile and vengeance screeching from every frame.

Horrocks herself describes Goro as “an exploration of my love of people saying shitty things to each other...and also my love of screaming and crying in comics,” stating “the focus on the book is mostly just family yelling at each other.” As playful as this framing of the book is, it’s also more accurate than a serious dissection of the book’s convoluted plot -- stuffed to the brim with twisting betrayals and secrets involving a wealthy but exceptionally dysfunctional family -- could ever hope to be.

It’s not that Goro is merely a story about “family yelling at each other;” it’s an artistic rendering of the form of hatred and anger that is unique to families, positioning Goro as a 21st century update of Munch’s The Scream, where instead of a lone figure yelling into the abyss, it’s a group of people forced together by blood and all the more bitter for it. And with 2017 functioning in many ways as an endless battle between family members over hateful views, Goro couldn’t possibly be more potent, even as it’s set in the 1980’s.

Because of its ensemble approach, in its first two issues Goro doesn’t have a central character, though it does seem to filter everything through the perspective of Sandra, a trans woman whose ostracization from and abuse at the hands of her family makes her the most righteously angry figure in the comic. Before coming out, Sandra was seen as a likely heir to her family’s company, Rubio, and her “betrayal” prompted the company to instead be handed over to Sandra’s brother-in-law Andrew, the now ex-husband of her more neutral sister Beth. This situation has left Sandra’s sister Francis -- perhaps her only ally -- bitter and resentful, fluctuating between half-assed sympathy for Sandra’s experience and outright rage at Sandra for having what she feels is an undeserved claim to Rubio leadership.

Part of why Sandra’s perspective is easy to latch on to is because her anger and hate is immediately understandable. Sandra is vocally and proudly angry in conversation, as are most of Goro’s characters, but her reasons are clearer, more sympathetic. Sandra comes from what Horrocks’ calls “a prominent family of motherfuckers”, yet she’s the only one whose vengeance you really root for. She is also the one whose victimization is most apparent. Her prickly nature and ferociousness never feels as off-putting as, say, her terrifying mother; it’s rawer, less discriminating, but also more authentic and intense.
This aspect of Sandra’s personality extends to her aesthetics, as well. When we glimpse Sandra’s apartment in the second issue, it’s like a trip inside her head, with erratic art sprawling across the walls. Horrocks fills the background with text art connecting to the larger identity themes in Goro, like “Be a F*ggot or a Tr*nny But Not Both” and “Mirror Mirror You Sack of Shit.” The style here is equal parts Francis Bacon, Basquiat, and Sienkiewicz (whose Elektra: Assassin is referenced by Horrocks as an influence on the series), punctuated by the largest amounts of white space in the comic.

This juxtaposition of the kudzu crawl of Sandra’s art and the scene’s expansive white space adds further meta-commentary on Goro’s running duality motif, with many of the characters straddling two conflicting identities, like Andrew’s closeted status and Sandra’s brother Alan’s use of his dead brother’s name. There’s also the two-faced nature of the characters, from the family matriarch’s sinister plotting to Francis’ early betrayal of Andrew, letting his ex-wife know that he isn’t at a company meeting despite what he claims. Everyone is at war with themselves and each other and Horrocks’ art is equally confrontational and divisive.
What does unify Sandra and her siblings, though, is an immense distrust and revulsion towards their mother, the chief motherfucker in this family full of them. Mrs. Motherfucker serves as the clearest connection to the melodrama icons Horrocks notes as inspiration for the series, a cocktail of the unapologetic ambition of a Douglas Sirk lead and the ball stomping fury feared by so many post-James Dean wildmen. In some panels she looks like a vampiric husk of a woman, all shoulder pads and knife sharp cheekbones, while in others there’s still a trace of glam to her, a hint at the magnetism that allowed her to get to the top in the first place. But in every scene she demonstrates immense contempt for everyone around her, caring only for what they can offer and what she feels they owe her.

Though Goro’s larger plot still in its infancy, Horrocks’ ability to make the throbbing vitriol of this family bleed out from every moment on the page provides ample stimulation. By focusing on the toxicity of the relationships before giving more than a glimpse of the larger plot, Horrocks preemptively raises the stakes, making whatever shit is about to go down all the more impactful. It also allows Horrocks’ vividly rough art to hit harder, forcing you to view it through the emotion it provokes rather than plot or storytelling beats, a welcome change of pace from the all too frequently sterile and stoic vibe of most family drama works.
Horrocks’ work has always packed a visual punch, but Goro is a major leap forward; it stands out as the best fusion of her vicious dialogue skills, trash art aesthetic, and keen insight on the way people interact. And while the family in Goro is by no means normal, I suspect more than a few readers will recognize some familiar impulses and frustrations in their interactions. Because ultimately Goro is a work that is at its most potent when it’s simply making you think of every horrible thing you’ve ever wanted to shout at a family member who has wronged you, forcing you to wonder how much separation there really is from you and the monsters on display here.

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Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage at his site Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at  Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can follow him on Twitter, where he mostly likes to yell at the family that is comics: @Nick_Hanover

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