Friday, 26 March 2010

Transgression and Transfiguration: Iain Laurie's Powwkipsie

It's no wonder Bill Watterson thought better of merchandising Calvin & Hobbes

Although a reasonably versatile (and consequently overused) word, "beautiful" isn't always an appropriate superlative for approval of an artist's work; but when it comes to Iain Laurie’s blogger-based comic Powwkipsie, it ceases to function altogether. Featuring grotesque, misshapen figures and twisted sexual imagery en masse, much like the "car crash" cliché, the Blogger-hosted comic is as engrossing as it is revolting. "Transgressive"? Maybe. "Nightmarish"? Definitely. "Beautiful"? Never.

Running sporadically since 2008 as a creative outlet for the obscenely-talented Edinburgh-based illustrator, Powwkipsie collects such disparate themes as vampirism, otherworldly phallic puppeteers and pop-culture satire - combining them with his compelling malformed, hyper-organic art. Laurie creates short and often-abstract narratives that require a bit of analysis on the reader's part. Like all the best nightmares, there’s an incomplete but pronounced severance of logic in many of the strips, endowing them with a psychological unease that’s difficult to shake.

Transformation is a key theme, and many strips show humans in various states of grotesque metamorphosis. Perhaps a comment on the negative obsessions of humanity, Laurie often ensures that his human characters often look just as ugly as his monsters, giving the suggestion that they are one and the same. One strip presents a wholesome family photo that gives way to a grim depiction of loneliness and depression; the family's smiling visages being replaced with blank tumored faces engaged in self harm, abuse and contemplations of suicide. Although this juxtaposition is hardly original, Laurie’s off-kilter visual construction gives the idea new life and avoids redundancy.

My favourite from the blog was the superhero satire "From Down Here They Look Like Gods/ From Up Here They Look Like Insects". English-language independent comics have always been awash with Superhero parody (understandably, given the genre's prominence in the US market) so it is quite impressive that Laurie's sardonic visual storytelling brings something new and thoughtfully funny  to the trope.

Well, it certainly makes more sense than DC's Final Crisis

Laurie's line work is incredible and it’s no small praise that, seeing his work for the first time, and I found myself making comparisons to the razor-sharp definition and flow of Paul Pope. When we asked the artist for a short bio on himself, it was no surprise to see the paper-and-ink Pulp Hope maestro's name on the list, alongside Hunter S. Thompson go-to Ralph Steadman. Just like these artists, there's a specific kind of measured sprawl to the art in Powwkipsie; a dichotomy of the free-flowing expression and the steady control that oversees it; like a stoic cowboy riding the back of an inky rodeo bull.

In Laurie’s own words, the comic represents his desire to "play around with narrative and comic strips and what’s expected from them.", describing Powwkipsie as "a kind of dream logic strip where I've got a vague idea what I want to say and then basically let my pen and subconscious work it out. I always describe it like the equivalent of running a photo through a Photoshop filter. It's distorted but you can still tell roughly what it is. It's warped, but hopefully you can still make sense of it on some level".

He's most likely talking about shopping at Asda at the weekend.

Currently collaborating with friend Craig Collins on the excellent Roachwell, Laurie has had work featured in Wasted and New British Comics, as well as upcoming anthologies HIVE 4 and 5. He informs us that he's always looking for new venues for his work and is available for commissions as well as project pitches from other creators. So, if you like your art a little off-centre and don’t mind if the occasional phallic marionette appears in it, don’t hesitate to drop him a line.



1 comment:

  1. Hmmm I don't know, I think I would definitely use the term "beautiful to describe Laurie's work. I get what you're getting at but there is an certain awful heart of darkness beauty to the lines and feel of the stories in my opinion.

    I love the feel where you get detached from reality reading his stuff. Like you don't know if you are hallucinating or if you have accidentally slipped through the cracks of the rational world and awoken in a horrific netherworldian reflection.

    I think this is an artist where the sky is the limit with where he is going to go.