There’s a classic structure to the comic strip. It’s a rigorously efficient format, and the best writer/artists making use of it can accomplish a lot, whether their desired effect is a solid punchline, a cliffhanger ending, or something more contemplative. That structure has also been borrowed by creators not necessarily associated with it, including Daniel Clowes’s graphic novel Ice Haven or certain interludes in the first volume of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles.
“Comics” by Providence’s C.F. — up through February 17 at Greenpoint’s Beginnings gallery — takes a surreal approach to the four-panel comic strip. Figures undergo transmogrification — a running man’s speed increases to the point where he casts off his flesh and becomes a ghost; a bear, egged on to look scarier, transforms into an almost insectlike form and attacks the figure beside him. These are images that hit the right comic-strip beats while remaining elusive; there’s something unsettling about his style, both loose and (appropriately) grotesque. There’s a similar physicality to his work done outside of the confines of a panel-based structure — some features exaggerated physicality or veers into sexual territory.
I’m not entirely sure where I’d classify C.F.’s work: it’s appeared both on the walls of galleries and within the pages of the Best American Comics anthology. But it’s done a fantastic job of getting inside of my head; some of the images are likely to wind up in my subconscious, emerging when I least expect them to leave me deeply unsettled.