Wednesday , September 30 2020
Dave Cooper's Cronenbergian graphic novel of sexual obsession. . .

Ripple

Very pink: the cover to Dave Cooper’s explicit graphic novel, Ripple (Fantagraphics Books), is overwhelmingly fleshy, the two leads in this unflinching tale of a doomed sexual coupling shown up close and fully blemished. It’s an apt display – simultaneously provocative and squirmy – that fully captures the sensation of reading this book. You know you’re in for a feel-bad experience when David Cronenberg provides an introduction to the collection.
Ripple (subtitled: “A Predilection for Tina”), which originally was serialized in Cooper’s Weasel art comic, revolves around the combustible affair between would-be serious artist Martin Degerres and his model/muse Tina. The book opens with Martin three years after their affair. The artist is a fortyish bearded wreck who alternates cigarettes with asthma medication huffs. He’s ineffectively attempting to “exorcise” the memory of his failed relationship with Tina by retelling it, but we know he’s doomed to fail.
The affair begins after Martin receives a Canadian Bureau Arts Grant to produce a show of “thought-provoking” erotic art. Choosing to focus on the Eroticism of Homeliness, he seeks real-life models with what he condescendingly calls “wonderful flaws.” His quest leads him to Tina, a red-faced, pimply fat girl with scary canines and clunky eyeglasses. Initially taken aback by her youth and unattractiveness, Martin quickly becomes obsessed with her: she’s a living representation of bad taste and proletarian appetite.
“I kinda like it when you tell me what to do,” the young girl says, and the admission inspires all sorts of unhealthy fantasies on Martin’s part. He invents reasons for her to continue posing for him, getting her to pose in rubber bondage gear and increasingly more provocative poses. After he tells her of a recurring erotic dream, the two embark on a sado-masochistic relationship where their roles get quickly reversed. Of course, it all falls apart.
Cooper’s Tina is a more life-like version of the big-thighed fantasy girl/women that’ve populated R. Crumb’s work for years (a recent art show catalog of Cooper’s paintings of “pillowy women” has been issued as the latest issue of Weasel). But Ripple is more than just replicated Id-ian mock porn. It’s a genuinely sad tale of missed connections. For artist Martin, Tina’s plus-sized body becomes the frame on which he can capture the secret life of flesh (or “ripple”). To Tina, Martin’s attempts at intellectualizing human carnality are an old man’s conceits. (He’s just, in her eyes, trying to rationalize his porn addiction.) She ridicules him for his age (38) and sexual inadequacies – and is unable to accept it when he expresses how beautiful she has become to him.
Cooper’s art, printed in three colors, is filled with discomforting head and body shots of both characters: the ruddy-cheeked Tina and balding, slightly weaselly (yes!) Martin. The look is heavily exaggerated (though at times the artist surprises you with a panel catching his protagonists in more humane light) and sexually graphic. Unlike much of Cooper’s earlier work, though, the focus is not on surreal flights of fancy (the closest we get to that are the occasional glimpse of children’s book art Martin is hacking out to make a living) but on grim psychodrama. At times, I found myself thinking of an art comic Last Tango in Paris – only with ice cream instead of butter.
For all its seeming forthrightness, Ripple‘s not an easy work to pin down: in lesser hands, the work’d come across as a simple battle of types (Lumpen Prole Girl Meets Hoity-Toity Artist), and at times you can see the characters falling into that simplistic formulation. But Cooper’s unerring dialog gives his characters more real-life heft. Martin and Tina are more than just artist and model, more than just exemplars of class differences. They’re both not-so-wonderfully flawed human beings who linger in your thoughts long after you’ve put the pages down.

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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