Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Heads or Tails by Lilli Carre

I like the fact that the comics field is vast and deep these days, I really do. But I'm not sure if I like it despite or because I can lose track of interesting creators for an entire decade.

Take Lilli Carre, for example - I read what I think were her first two books (in reverse order), The Lagoon and Tales of Woodsman Pete, back in 2009. Looking back now, my reviews were a bit mixed, but there was a lot of good stuff there, and Carre was clearly a creator I wanted to see more from.

And then...well, she at least had a collection of stories in 2012, because I just read it. My guess is that she has had other books in the past decade and a half. But I neglected to notice them at the time. That's mostly on me, and maybe partially on the way comics are sold into comics shops on a monthly basis - if you miss what's coming out that particular month, you might never hear about it again, especially in book form. It's a culture and a market designed for ongoing stuff, this month's adventures of Longjohns Man.

Carre is from a far different corner of comics. Heads or Tails collects 8 "long" stories and a bunch of shorter ones [1], plus some illustration work, all wrapped up in a stylish package. She draws in a distinctive style, closer to design than realism, and I tend to see a bit of Richard Sala in some of her figures. But mostly she draws like herself: lumpy people, only rarely drawn to be attractive, in equally lumpy, slightly cartoony surroundings.

Those people live uneasy lives; Carre's stories are about uncertainty and unexpected happenings, people who bounce off each other randomly. There may be a hint of Sala there as well, in the mystery and uncertainty, but Carre is entirely domestic: her people are stopping randomly in roadside carnivals or viewing their own lives from the outside, not being caught up in fiendish plots. There is oddness and strangeness, yes, but of the normal-life kind, the "what am I doing here" feeling, sometimes shown straight and sometimes transmuted into something nearly fantastical.

It's a territory entirely her own, I think: I've seen comics about the supernatural, and comics about the domestic, but no one else that builds her own uncanny valley out of the juxtaposition of the two.

These are strong stories, well-constructed and deeply thought through, full of electric moments and surprising drawings. And they're all more than a decade old: I have to wonder what Carre has been doing since this. I'll need to look.

[1] I think the first story here, "Kingdom," is only just slightly longer than some of the shorter pieces, but it sets the tone for the book.

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