Cover illustration by Connie Chu
The Wicked and the Tired is not only a fascinating, haunting, comics anthology, it's also a beautiful and transporting art piece. The rich cobalt blue cover with its silver foil stamping suggests this will be a special graphic storytelling experience. The hand-pressed rounded corners show how important every detail of the book's presentation was to its creators. The Wicked and the Tired lives up to the promise of its outside appearance, and provides a gravid mystery that requires repeat experiences to properly unfold. While it's a brief read, it's a powerful one that is specific in representing diverse Chicago-based artists. Editor and contributor Sheika Lugtu described the book's origins:
The anthology idea started because I hosted 24 Hour Comics Day last year (2016). It's an event where folks come together and make 24 pages in 24 hours. A few stayed the whole time and many others spent over six hours making art. I realized that I was surrounded by amazing artists of color and folks who are LGBTQ and/or nonbinary. Many from the original event are included, plus others from a call I put out to round off the book. Over half of the cartoonists in this anthology are POC and many identify LGBTQ—the kind of diversity and inclusivity I want to see in the world.
"Witching Hour" by Gabi Mendez
The anthology, subtitled "A comic anthology of surreal horror and the unending anxiety of living," has the mood of a group of artists working together to create something emotional and immediate as creators often do for an intimate marathon comics-making event. Each story contains an anxiety for connection and communication. Searching and finding genuine meaning in human existence is poetically expressed with beautiful black and white illustration. The structure of the book has a disorienting quality as well: each story is bookended by an exotic illustration that punctuates the existential angst within. There's a level of sophistication to The Wicked and the Tired that is unexpected for a first-time anthology created out of a 24 Hour Comics Day.
The stories mostly defy conventional narrative, making it less a comic to read, and more a comic to feel, not unlike the comics equivalent of a mix tape. It follows the "show more, tell less" school of comics that calls to mind the best of wordless underground comics. There are elements of absurdist humor to offset the anxiety, which give the read a unique gothic charm. The first story, "Witching Hour" by queer creator Gabi Mendez, is the most conventional telling the story of two young women wandering the night in separate journeys that converge into a witchy statement of the romance and magic of sisterhood. The page following the story has a lovely pinup by A. Cris Valles of a variety of witch fashions reminiscent of the center splash fashion pages in Archie comics. The quality of art is strong all around, but I was especially taken by the work of Yewon Kwon in her story "Halovita." In three pages, Kwon vividly depicts the anxiety of the oft-perceived "indulgence of illness" and the surreality of taking medications because another human has commanded it so. Her message is strong, but the illustrative combination of undulating lines, shaded grays, and blocked out blacks is highly appealing.
"Halovita" by Yewon Kwon
Gabe Howell's story, "I Am Enduring the Miserable Inevitable and Internet Crush," is a brutal, painful, and explicit account of enduring the obsession of having a crush through social media. While there is access to information, images, and history of the crush, it all contributes to a delusion. As someone who has endured many internet crushes, this one resonated with me and I needed to take a shower afterward. Howell's art is grungy (and kind of scary), with many deliberate misspellings throughout, lending it the feel of a serial killer's manifesto. Agender queer artist Rivven Prink follows Howell's story with a spooky moth illustration that continues the tone of foreboding onwards, and is some of the strongest work I've seen from their ever-surprising body of work.
"Hell Moth" by Rivven Prink
The Wicked and the Tired concludes with a surreal and witty story from Lugtu, "Theodore's Day Out," a lushly drawn fable about a creature looking for his parents. Theodore is assisted by a pushy raven, and a character referred to as Joan In Accounting. The environments and character details of this 16-page story are beautiful, with masterful use of gray, black, and white tones. The panel structures are unconventional and lend to the humor of the piece. There's some Monty Python's Flying Circus and Terry Gilliam-style satire, but with a tragic underpinning. Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Theodore's having a wild adventure, but ultimately it is the comfort of home that is sought and sometimes unattainable. It's a lovely conclusion to a highly recommended anthology.
The Wicked and the Tired can be found at Cow House Press in print and digital editions. Sheika Lugtu appeared at Challengers Comics + Conversation in Chicago as part of their Women's Comic Month event and signed copies there while representing the comics collective The Ladydrawers. There will also be copies of the limited first edition at Chicago Zine Fest and CAKE.