REVIEWS

XTC69

Chicago-based artist Jessica Campbell's first effort with Koyama Press, Hot or Not: 20th Century Male Artists was a wonderfully funny, pointed satire in which the author presented herself as a museum docent, assessing not the artistic merit of celebrated male artists such as Gustav Klimt, Henry Moore, and Mark Rothko, but their sexual attractiveness, i.e., their "boneability." It was wicked fun, and Campbell never let the politics of her role-reversal override the silly humor of it all, proving herself a humorist to be reckoned with.

With her followup, XTC69, Campbell explores the same satirical territory, holding a mirror up to male chauvinism and misogyny and reflecting it back with merciless aim, this time through a science fiction parody seemingly inspired by the 1967 drive-in trash classic Mars Needs Women, in which a group of male Martians visit Earth to find female mates with whom to repopulate their planet. Campbell quickly establishes her everything's-opposite scenario, making her aliens a trio of females from the planet L8DZ N123 (read that carefully—get it?) roaming the galaxies in their titular ship in search of males. The L8DZ are led by Commander Jessica Campbell and the planet they have landed on is Earth—only it is 700 years in the future and no humans remain… except for one young woman also named (gasp!) Jessica Campbell.

It turns out that the earthling Jessica Campbell was cryogenically frozen right before the world ended, with a bag of ketchup chips firmly in hand. She quickly revives, immediately goes back to eating her chips, and informs her rescuers of the circumstances of her long sleep. To avoid confusion, Commander Campbell decides to call Jessica "JC2." (A nonplussed JC2's response to Commander Campbell: "Ok… You do you.") The L8DZ decide to take this earthling away with them as "The archivist for this… Earth."

Soon, the crew and JC2 make a forced landing on the planet MXPX, which is populated entirely by men. Unfortunately, the MXPXers, headed by the fratboy-like "President Chad," are all complete sexist dolts. When the L8DZ first meet the men, they are gathering for a big festival they call "The Great Cupcake Bake Off and Murder Show." They ask the women inane questions like: "Uh, could you smile?" "Why aren't females funny?" and simply, "Blowjob?" The L8DZ and JC2 understandably take umbrage at the nerve of these idiots and the battle of the sexes is on. The story continues with some fun twists that you won't see coming.

Campbell makes funny plays on standard slang (Commander Jessica Campbell admonishes her charge: "Leigh! Grow some tits already!"), and peppers the narrative with silly visuals, such as the landscapes of the women's home planet unmistakably resembling the top and bottom of a bikini, while the largest continent  of the men's planet is clearly shaped like a phallus. There is millennial-style humor, including a great riff on Harry Potter, demonstrating that Harry Potter devotees are among the most dedicated (and longwinded) fans in the Nerdiverse. A brief scene where Commander Campbell shows JC2 around the XTC69 spaceship also scores.

Commander Campbell also makes a pointed, no-kidding-around remark against gender binaries:

Campbell limns her story with the thick-brushed, faux naïve look of Hot or Not. At a mere 64 pages, Hot or Not was over before I really wanted it to be, but with XTC69 she has twice the pages to tell her story, and paces it with an assured hand. She branches out with more ambitious layouts, including some imaginative use of landscapes. Her high-contrast black and white visuals at times remind me of Jennifer Camper's work (echoing both Camper's thumb-to-nose satire of the patriarchy and her deliciously female-centric sensibility). Campbell's wry sense of humor and her crack comic timing are in evidence throughout. The pulpy cover art is particularly fabulous.

In a brief coda, the "real" Campbell is asked if she worries that the comic is “misogynist against men.” For anyone unaware of the sheer reactionary venality of a vocal contingent of the comics world, check this out for a jolting wake-up call. Campbell proves once again that comedy and satire are powerful tools in an artist's arsenal in the battle against entrenched oppression. XTC69 is thoroughly delightful and sneakily powerful.

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