A gleaming star locked up tight in the sky is unbound and plummets, landing in a trash heap in the abandoned body of a doll. Wandering a haunted wasteland of a city, desolate alleyways hemmed with slender gothic towers, the doll is confronted by an evil moon. The moon names the doll Constance. Soon she will be given another name.
Newly living and at once curious and fearful, the beginning of the doll's life is ruptured by her naming, a nail literally driven into her leaving her dizzy and staggering, in and out of shelter, from safety into violence. In the company of a newfound friend she feels safe and she feels precious, but still her name drives her away, the name she did not choose. She dies, and her body lives, and the story can begin again if one simply starts reading from the first page. Maybe, if we read it again, something else might happen.
Corpse Star Cycle is a comic that is gay as in cringe, cringe as in emo, and emo as in heartfelt and boldly experimental. The artist, Coco Paluck, charts aesthetic terrain at this point familiar in contemporary queer art subcultures - borrowing stylings from maligned pop culture to create expressions that push formal boundaries and explore deep complex traumas, while pushing back on the familiarity of extremity by way of cheeky artifice. Paluck’s work particularly appears evocative of the emo comics Slave Labor Graphics was pumping out in the mid-'00s, the sort of graphic novels you might have picked up in your adolescence when you were too old for The Nightmare Before Christmas and too young to watch a horror movie unaccompanied. Paluck wallows in these visual trappings and emerges with something fresh and idiosyncratic, page after page of inspired compositions like panels locked up with chains in their gutters, or slashes of daggers cutting open a page to reveal part of another under the one you are reading with words and pictures that you cannot quite discern in full.
There is a freedom to Paluck’s cartooning that allows a little bit of a drift away from narrative into obscure symbolism and creative rush, but never so much as to cease to be a story and comfortably sit on a lofty shelf of avant-garde books that coherently mean nothing - just enough to send you back through the book over and over, wondering if, perhaps, you missed something important. There is at times a passing resemblance to Noel Freibert’s drippy experimental nightmares, albeit some kind of nonexistent Disneyfied variation: the Tokyopop OEL version, if you will. Like Freibert, Paluck explores a particular kind of no-escape pessimism tempered by the vigorously playful energy of her craft - something feels real about a comic like this.
At risk of unfairly reducing Paluck’s remarkable work to her gender, Corpse Star Cycle is a recognizably trans comic with deeply trans resonances. Her work confronts the painful and physical emotional environment of gender dysphoria, the horror and abjection not only of the body but the chemical composition of the body, signals disrupting the spirit - the sense that something grotesque and foreign twists your every motion and distorts your thoughts. The comic does not end with transcendence or realization; crucially, in a brief reprieve when Constance nearly finds a home and is given a new name that suits her better, that name is in fact a copy of her only friend’s name, becoming Pepper Ann² after Pepper Ann. It’s a reflection of someone kind; it seems to give her comfort. Is it her name? Dwelling in a body that isn't hers, driven by a will that is not hers, in a place she does not belong, constantly she falls, dissipates, returns lifeless awaiting the repetition of the cycle, possibly surviving.