Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Best Comics of 2013, No. 10: Omaha the Cat Dancer, Vol. 8

This one should come as a complete surprise to nobody. I've made no secret of my admiration for Omaha the Cat Dancer, or of my past associations with its creative team, over the years. While there's the usual talk of narratives and techniques, this one also get a bit mushy, so feel free to skip it if you're not into that.
There will be a few spoilers in this entry, but hey, the work's been out for months, and my few words will not detract from any pleasure you might take in the reading of this work.
This year saw the publication of the final pages of the Omaha saga, first in Sizzle magazine, then as a collection (which I've yet to pick up, though I was able to keep up with the story through the magazine, the rest of which is silly at best).
While not all storylines are fully resolved, those whose denouement is not directly discussed are alluded to pretty directly, like Rob and his boyfriend attending the wedding. I would have liked to see some follow-up on Shelley's personal trainer Dave Allen, whose character was intriguing but sort of faded away quite a while ago, but most everyone else gets a long-overdue resolution, if not an ending.
Endings are overrated. Resolutions give chances at new beginnings.
Reed's color sense, seen on this cover and not seen in print since the 2004 cover that launched the conclusion in Sizzle, remains strong and at least rivals that of the late Kate Worley, who colored the covers on the old Kitchen Sink and Fantagraphics runs. His placement and shaping of shadows occasionally troubles me, but that's just a question of taste, not of accuracy - his way works just fine, I'd just handle it differently, that's all.
Reed's art took several turns in these final chapters, spread over almost ten years (!). Working with Kate as a writer, his backgrounds were precise, to the point of architectural accuracy. In contrast, with James Vance taking over as writer, Reed's backgrounds got looser, and the art became even more about the characters. Neither approach is wrong, but it was fascinating to watch Reed again deeply embrace some of the "takes" and other expressive elements of the funny animal stuff that got him started.
I'm walking on eggshells a bit here. Even though it's been more than twenty years since Reed let me apprentice under his tutelage (and there's an awkward phrase for you!), I still tend to see him as the Master, and the Student does not speak ill of the Master. Yeah, I know, get over it. No, I don't think so. I learned a great deal from Reed, about art and about life, and while I may and do disagree with him on some things, I will not disrespect him or his work.
First page of this volume,
with Kate Worley writing
The aforementioned Sizzle cover showed Omaha reaching for an alarm clock that was chiming 2005, a charming recognition of time slipping away.
Some of the things that were revolutionary about Omaha in its heyday are now commonplace. Funny animal work comes and goes in comics. The furry community slogs on, arguably supplanted (or enhanced?) by Bronies- a tentative relationship, but an interesting idea! The rights of GLBT people are now discussed in the Supreme Court, and there are sixteen or seventeen states where the rights of GLBT people to marry are recognized (we'll have to see what happens in Utah). We have mechanisms in place for legal protections of comic creators working in volatile areas (again with no small thanks to Reed and Kate), though the fight continues (note to self- renew CBLDF membership!). Disability rights and depictions of the disabled are more common, and more realistic, in comics now. So in light of all that, how does the new work stand up?
Quite well, thank you. As is the case with many of the titles we've discussed so far in this year's countdown, it's a bit like getting back together with old friends. They will say and do things that annoy and frustrate you, but you still care a great deal what happens to them.
Again, yeah, I know. Fictional characters. So what? They may not matter as much as the three-dimensional carbon based life forms in the long run, but they still matter. And it's a note of respect for the creators that they matter to us as much as they do.
Panel from the later chapters written by James Vance.
Note the level of background detail.
We finally learn who's behind the A Block scandals, and of course, Bonner's murder (I should note that I was wrong about this every step of the way). Chuck is given the opportunity to come to terms with his family, and as the cover of Volume 8 implies, resolves his relationship with Omaha. Again, it would have been nice to see Rob and Geoff marry, but there just wasn't time, I guess. Also, gay marriage wasn't legally recognized in MN until after the story was concluded.
Conclusion and resolution are words that recur in this piece. That's the nature of this story, and that's me. I am such a sentimentalist slob, I am reluctant to let go of any of the good things in my life. And my association with Reed Waller, Kate Worley, James Vance, and Omaha the Cat Dancer and her associates, despite troubles and distances, remains A Good Thing. Naturally, my perception of the work is influenced by that, but that doesn't effect the intrinsic quality of the work. I'd like to paraphrase one of the last lines of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge: and in the end, they all got exactly what they wanted. This applies to the characters in Omaha and to the people involved, I hope.
Thanks to the Omaha team for more than 30 years of a great comic. It wasn't always easy, but what that's worthwhile is?
Next: Best Comics of 2013, No. 9, courtesy of the WPA.
Afterthought: when Reed and Kate returned from Disneyland (it might have been Disney World), they had picked up some of those giant cartoon mouse hands. As I left my internship duties at their place one afternoon, Reed held out a hand encased by a four-fingered glove. We shook paws, grinning from ear to ear.
Now that's a nice goodbye.