Last year at TCAF, I met up with cartoonist Ron Hotz and he handed me a copy of Draw Blood. Draw Blood is a 68+ page graphic novella published in 2016. Ron writes a webcomic called Best Day Evr! that’s been running since 2014. Best Day Evr! is a high school drama featuring anthropomorphic characters and Draw Blood uses Hotz’ three main characters from that webcomic, Franny, Roger, and Howie. The comparisons between Hotz’ webcomic and Draw Blood end at that point; Draw Blood is a much more avante garde affair.
In Draw Blood, Franny, Roger, and Howie move through a strange dreamscape made up of doodles, phone numbers, handwritten post-it notes, prescription stickers, and other medical ephemera. They’re trying to get home, but it becomes clear as the comic progresses that the concept is a little strained. Other details make themselves clear over time – a woman receives bad news from her doctor, and it’s likely that the ephemera pictured is the collected scraps of that doctor’s clinic, including handwritten notes and progress reports. Hotz uses a combination of graphite sketches, collage, mixed media painting, and traditional cartooning to create a sense of chaos and instability. There’s an interesting juxtaposition between the anthropomorphic characters, which are extremely cartoony and simple, and the rest of the work. I don’t necessarily love the cartooning and the way these characters are designed, but the stark contrast between them and Hotz’ sketches of test tubes and cut away mannequins is compelling.
Hotz isn’t the first cartoonist to work with scraps of paper from doctors offices and hospitals – multi-talented comics artist HTMLflowers’ stellar No Visitors series portrays his battle with disability due to chronic disease, and medical records forms, informational handouts, and other cut and torn scraps end up in those zines. The difference here is the perspective – from HTMLflowers, we see the perspective of the patient. From Hotz, it’s the perspective of the medical provider. HTMLflowers’
comics document his feelings of abandonment by the medical professions, his anger, and his strength; Hotz’s comics document the mounting stress of being the person who has to deliver the bad news, but can never break down. I think that the patient’s perspective is inherently more interesting, but Draw Blood presents the provider’s perspective in a fascinating way.
The anthropomorphic characters in Draw Blood are the release valve for the stress that is building over the course of the book, and Hotz draws them attempting to escape the medical office – a sign of his own desire to escape being the deliverer of bad news. Hotz seems to insert himself into the narrative as a deer of some kind, who despite his desires to leave, can’t go. That mental wear expresses itself in the doodles and scribbles seen in Draw Blood, and in some ways Hotz himself becomes a separate character in the book, the unseen hand behind the mess. Readers are seeing both into the world of Franny, Roger, and Howie, and into the cartoonists’ life. Hotz’s characters’ movement through the scrap and clutter of the medical establishment pulls the reader deeper into the fear and anxiety that generated them in the first place. The repetition of symbols, the spiraling quality of that repetition, and its continuous forward motion make Draw Blood an interesting comic; not a companion to Hotz’s other work despite shared characters, but an entity unto itself.
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