How about the story of a woman navigating a prestigious art school, handling self-worth, expectations, mental health and unconventional unsustainable coping mechanisms in a quirky art style? Say hello to Clio Isadora with the semi-autobiographical Sour Pickles.
It’s only blummin' Avery Hill Publishing again this time with the debut full-length work from the acclaimed zine producing, Risograph proficinado (proficient and aficionado) Clio Isadora. Oh Avery you do spoil us. As we’re all coming to expect now this one has got the calling card of a uniquely styled poignant life experience tale with emotional storytelling, honest introspection, reflecting musings, confessional explorations with a lens on class barriers, self-worth nepotism and an undercurrent of pitfalls and coping mechanisms in mental health. I think a great place to start if you are completely unfamiliar with Clio is her website www.clioisadora.com where you’ll instantly get a sense of her super signature style, learn a little about her and get a sense of previous work and that love of Risograph. It might also help make my art review to make a little more sense. In particular other interesting projects such as Is It Vague In Other Dimensions, the description alone offers some interesting insight. Then return to us for a closer look at this interesting gem.
So, let’s start with the art. Clio Isadora has a very interesting quirky style that is unmistakably her own. I should quantify the use of quirky here as I’m aware it’s not much of a descriptor and can come across as dismissive which is not my intention. Quirky to me is something special for being different. I’m using quirky here as a unique identifier for this offbeat unconventional art. There's a surrealist element to it and the best example or frame of reference I can think of would be that this art could be right at home in an Adult Swim animation with a hint of Bevis and Butthead and 90’s MTV style elements. A certain rebel and counter-culture alternative vibe.
A big signifier, maybe even trademark if such a term is appropriate, of Clio’s art sits upon the face of all her stylish characters and it's in the noses. I really like the design that centres around them; it's a quality full of character. That strong identifier of this art is so stylised and gave me this reaction of familiar, unfamiliarity that I’m still trying to rectify as I commit this review to screen. Another thing that really stands out to me in this art is the characters' individual clothing styles. There's a certain level of care, attention and detail applied that compliments the fully rounded out characters and makes them compelling realised individuals. The title lead Pickles Yin has a wardrobe that feels deliberately cultivated to add a sense of personality to the character. It's an outline model to which Clio then adds very well constructed emotions to. The "sour" nihilism and sarcasm is expertly readable as is the conveyance of anguish and anxiety.
Best friend Radish is equally as charming due to Clio's strength at portraying these characteristics; these are clear, readable and engrossing emotions. Another fascinating element lies in the colours on offer. Yes, the book is predominantly black and white but the occasional pages and highlighted panels are particularly pretty with the bleeding soft neon blues and pinks. They add a dreamy quality that really accentuates the art it accompanies. Clios style is unmistakably hers and thoroughly enjoyable for it. Quirky, cute art.
On to the story then. Sour Pickles is as mentioned semi-autobiographical which adds a gonzo element to the events portrayed. The storytelling is interesting as it plays out an experience of empathy inducing, and fairly relatable in its larger themes, introspection. Clio uses the vessel of Pickles to explore and address the experience of handling expectations with post education existential crises. A crisis that is accentuated with an isolating class and race factor resulting in external and internal judgement.
The story focuses on, the sour of outlook, Pickles Yin and best friend and classmate Radish. The pair have a kindred spirit coalition of outlier, smoker and nihilistic comradery as they attempt to navigate their final year of art school. The stress factor of elitist nepotism on display in their class pushes the two to seek an edge and drive to fuel them through this final year. A tenuous at best, film influence leads to a low budget informed highly alternative method of productivity full of pitfalls and a steady decline of mental health. There's moments of comedy, tragedy and nihilism in between the existential dread from the pursuit of an artist's life. There's the added lens of being the fairground goldfish in the silver-spooned mouthed prize fish pond with a sad exclamation point in an "Exciting Commission" email. It’s a poignant examination of expectation and self-worth with the trials of being an artist.
For fans of comics with an edge in style and honesty, the pursuit of dreams, existential dread, crisis of character, unhealthy unsustainable coping strategies, small-town working-class backgrounds, Jesus insect past lives, old lady hallucinations and sandwich illustrators you’ll want the unique and lovable Sour Pickles. Bookplate editions are available at Pre-Order - Sour Pickles by Clio Isadora | Avery Hill Publishing (bigcartel.com) and don’t forget Clios website.