A comic I return to again and again is Baby Bun, by Yoyo, a mini-mini mini comic I picked up — for 50p — in passing on my way out of OK True Believers in its first or second year. It’s a panel per page sequence of what appears to be a large ice cube gradually unfolding into a rabbit that was sleeping. Its head pokes out the top, it goes back to sleep, and that’s all—that’s the comic. Baby Bun is printed on a bright blue background, its progress formed of paper-cut simple white and black shapes, and it contains no dialogue or captions. It is so effective because it is enveloping, and it is enveloping because it is so simple: because there is nothing more than what there must be, what is consumes your entire attention. It is whole because it’s apparently irreducible, distilled, and therefore it commands. In that command lives the peace of submission. You just obey the turning of the pages, the gradual waking of the rabbit. Then it’s done. You emerge from the still water of your captured focus. Much like holding a posed stretch, the experience of Baby Bun is enriching for its easy, straightforward discipline. You can either do this exercise, or not—but here in its nature is exactly how.
Pipette and Dudley Charming Dog Adventure Comics
Charlotte Mei’s Pipette and Dudley Charming Dog Adventure is very similar to Baby Bun in all of the ways described, but it’s an expanded vision (110 pages to Baby Bun’s eight) and of course that requires some difference. First of all it’s a genuine narrative, “a story,” with a beginning, middle, end; a status quo is established, a spanner thrown into the works, various reactions ensue, and finally everyone must recoup. There is a protagonist. There is dialogue, and there are narrative captions, and there are gutters, sometimes, sort of. There’s an array of colours in use: a sort of ceramic pastel rainbow.
Still, there are very few panels per page; most often one page is one panel, and on every page the approach to delineation is roundabout. There aren’t lines when there can be shapes, and there are never two shapes used when there might be one…rounder than Baby Bun’s cubism, and more visibly material (paint thickness is sometimes visible; the interactions between the base paint and whatever has been used to occasionally line over them are undisguised), Mei offers a sort of Fauvist/later Matissean vision of a 1989 Shoujo world. Protagonist Pipette lives in a castle, talks to her dog (Dudley—who talks right back) and wears a high pony and a poofy, Moritaka Chisato party dress that’s represented by between one and four geometric shapes blobbed together in sage green. Her facial features are an M of expressive brows, two dots, and a curve or a circle for her mouth. Dudley is just circles.
Conscious naiveté has a vital presence in the world of the young woman—there’s so much we’d rather not be obliged with just yet—but beyond building that character-defining trait into Pipette’s world, the reduced literalism of Charming Dog Adventure produces the same effect in the reader as the phrase, “Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away…” did during childhood. It indicates that the “world” you are visiting within this story is quite like yours, similar enough to be recognisable, but prepares you for it to be different enough (the difference being the draw) that every new detail conveys magic and wonder, whether fearsome or beautiful, instead of demanding explanation—or explication. The difference is where the rest is. It asks your mind not to spot what’s wrong, just to hear what’s next. Like a Handsome Prince Talent Show featuring the yo-yo prodigy (who is also a DJ) Prince Kyle, or a jazz bar for dogs. These things produce their relevance and are left behind without further ado.
Though I reference 1989 with implicit specificity, Charming Dog Adventure is very concerned with modernity. Pipette is a “regional princess and micro-influencer,” which is a job description nobody would have thought of in ye olde times past. Today it vibes, completely, and not only with my understanding: also with the book as a whole, the tightly gathered spackling of personal influences Mei reforms into something pastiched but lovely (like an optimised Instagram page. Have you tried thinking of social media lifework as pastiche?).
On the final page a faked-up advert claims that Dudley’s Dream Land is “COMING SOON.” The focus of the “ad” is a Game Boy style square cartridge, which says “Advance” on—a later form of the same product which took differently shaped cartridges—which claims to be playable on the “FUN SYSTEM,” whose logo is a Dudleyfied version of the FAMICOM DISK SYSTEM—an ad-on for a different console (the NES, to many of us) from the same company (Nintendo)—mascot Diskun. The combination of all these well-known hindbrain advertising hints is a platonic sense of “Remember… video game,” whether or not you still game regularly, whether or not you had access to these systems when they were current. The point of the tableau is retro video game potential, and inspires a warm and oncoming sense of yearning “Yes!” Without our living in the future this couldn’t be “retro” and we couldn’t feel that transformational “Once upon a time…” nostalgia for it. It would just be an irritating jumble of incongruous corporate ephemera adding to the tidal wave of those genuine articles that assault us every day in reality. My most-hated current-creation tic, “I’m Just Looking at Acebook on my Assorted Fruit Laptop,” is most hated because it self-signals as mandatory—the most basic possible forced synonyms used as free passes to avoid the scary thought of lawsuits that wouldn’t be brought anyway in pursuit of prosaic realism—all that’s desired, all that the creator mistakes for necessary, is to have a character look at IT’S NOT Facebook on their IT’S NOT A Mac. There’s no art to it and no gain from it. “Dudley’s Dream Land” contains both, though, and that calms me down.
Charming Dog Adventure is neither frantically afraid to indicate nor desperate to ensure it’s understood, which means it doesn’t imply I should be. Thank u, Charlotte Mei, and ShortBox. I feel better.