Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Shit (BONUS): Hello Kitty's Fashion Music Wonderland & Here We Go!

In 2013, Viz Media started a line of comics licensed by Sanrio. Each of them tells a series of short, wordless stories about Kitty and her friends.

For ComicCon this year, a sort of pre-series comic was released, called Hello Kitty's Fashion Music Wonderland. In October, the first of the actual series came out: Hello Kitty: Here We Go!. I had Fashion Music Wonderland long before I started this series, but had kind of forgotten about it; I only recently got Here We Go!. They're both kind of great, as a person who likes Hello Kitty a lot. So I decided that, even though I read no other comics, they were worth talking about.

It seems like it's been ages since I've discussed any specific piece of Hello Kitty visual art; after I initally wrote about Jason Han's "I Haz Mouth," I had kind of planned to talk at length about some of the other paintings or sculptures from the 35th anniversary, collected in the Three Apples book. I never really got around to it, unfortunately, and I'm certainly not going to be going nearly as in depth here, but it'll be a fun little thing to do.

The first image, above, is from the arc in Fashion Music Wonderland in which Kitty White becomes a famous pop star; it specifically is the panel where she receives the gift of a Rock Band-like system from Dear Daniel, her old friend/boyfriend/husband, or something, depending on the line I guess.

It's a weird image, kind of very reminiscent of "I Haz Mouth" in its replication of Kitty's face. Except this time her "primary" face is actually entirely absent; her back is turned, but the speech bubble has her full face inside of it, and there is a "pixelated" version of it on the screen of the television. Plus there is Dear Daniel, whose face is also Kitty's face.

But then, it's also even more complex in its way; the exclamation point this time is not just in the speech bubble, it is dotted with Kitty's face, and surrounded by the Bang!-like color that also goes around the Kitty-whose-"talking"'s self. And instead of mirror Kitty (or Mimmy, but probably not) there's Dear Daniel looking like a smug-ass dad, which just, I don't even know how to.

In the short narrative, this gift leads to the formation of a band, who go to a talent show and win a record deal, and Kitty goes off to travel the world, even as she pines for Dear Daniel back home. The final panel of the arc mirrors this one, as Dear Daniel is lead to retrieve his gift which turns out to be Kitty herself; given the bizarre way in which Kitty is refracted throughout the objects and expressions here, from linguistically to technologically mediated, her own return as a unified individual gift is, well, really really interesting.

Of course, the whole point of Hello Kitty is that she is meant to be a gift, whether for another or to oneself, so this moment is shot through with that knowledge as well. I've not got a ton to say there, although it should remain an open topic, I think.

More immediately relevant is that, if, like I've been endlessly repeating, ghosts are about a becoming-linguistic of space, then this panel suggests a certain ghostliness to Kitty herself, if in no other way than in her persistent refusal to become-linguistic. I've covered this better in the essays linked above, but her tendency to occupy non-linguistic representative spaces through signifiers of language is pretty well established at this point. Here though, there is the addition, in the form of the "pixelated" face, of the sort of necessary abstraction of language as well as its refusal. It's a real neat panel.

It's not until the main story arc of Fashion Music Wonderland, where Kitty stars in a sorta Alice in Wonderland, that we see ghosts again. There's the Cheshire Cat, of course, but there's also this weird moment, where Kitty is chasing after that cat, and runs through this intersection populated by quasi-human forms that, again, seem to be somewhat digitized. In a weird way, it could almost be a scene out of Serial Experiments Lain, Internet ghosts and all.

Kitty is chasing the Cheshire Cat because Dear Daniel, here in the role of the very late rabbit, has asked her about his gloves and top hat, which the Cat is wearing. She entered Wonderland by way of thoughtlessly wandering into an open manhole, where she transformed into Fashion Music Kitty; it's all pretty adorable. This in Wonderland ends at the tea party, where the Red Queen shows up and looks very intimidating but ultimately invites Kitty in, and they all enjoy themselves. Which is all just to say that this scene is not really even remotely important to the story; it's a pure action sequence, devoid of narrative weight or responsibility, an unnecessary conveyance of how she gets from point A to point B. It is, in other words, a sort of visualization of what's usually left in the gutter.

Of course, these are more obviously ghostly than the reaction shot to Kitty's gift, even if it also obvious that they are not meant to be read as ghosts insofar as ghosts are associated with horror. They are, rather, instantiations or embodiments of space; a crosswalk doesn't make sense without both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, but it can only really project the former sufficiently. So it speaks its form through these quasidigital objects.

The "Deep Clean" short of Hello Kitty: Here We Go! has, incidentally, a panel that almost directly quotes the latter one from Fashion Music Wonderland. In this, Kitty is engaged in spring cleaning when she gets sucked into a deep underground civilization made up of people made of stone who eat gems and drink and smoke lava. As she enters the town, following her new friend, the panel above shows her wonderment and the friendliness of her newfound city's inhabitants.

In this case, the way that the inhabitants function as expressions of the landscape itself; that deep, the folks are made of rocks, of course. There's no crosswalk, because there's probably not a whole lot of need for vehicular travel; the roads are still very much designed for them, though. Here We Go! is very much, as the name suggests, a comic about Kitty's travels; she is depicted variously as a secret agent, an explorer, and a safari-goer throughout the collection. There are a number of vehicles that she drives or rides in, which makes the absence of them here, if not especially pronounced, at least interesting.

This too is why the stone folks inhabitants of this space is interesting on the level of space itself's becoming-linguistic. In conjunction with the quotation of the digitalish ghosts from the earlier collection of stories, here we are dealing with embodiment through possibility; rather, though, than the expression of space through slightly-estranged normative bodies, its through bodies themselves that are expressions of (in that they consist of the same stuff as, abstracted anthropomorphically,) the space. Which again recalls the first pictured panel; when Kitty becomes linguistic, or at least decidedly fails to, its generally through a form of expression which only ever appears as a simple representation of the stuff of which she is made. Her face.

Speaking of Kitty with the gendered pronoun obscures the point here significantly. That is: she herself is not a character. She precedes narrative. Kitty White is neither character nor stuff; she only exists as stuff, but on its periphery, or as a structuring force. Kitty is, that is to say, the way that stuff enters into the realm of representation, that it becomes-linguistic. She is, I suppose, a brand, although I hold some reservations about using that sort of language. Not that it's necessarily wrong, just that I'm not sure it's totally right.

These three panels, across two comics, tell their own story; it's about how Kitty's presence structures the possibility of the stuff which surrounds her. Call it Kitty Correlationism; her worlds are always only epistemological, organizations of being in accordance with the self-image of branded junk without interiority. Without an anchoring subjectivity, space becomes necessarily as expressive as the pseudosubjects which inhabit it. It's the objective correlative writ large; space, in fiction, sure, but mostly in manufactured objects that exist in the world as potentials for exchange-value, is a response to the subjects affective state.

The final image, also from Here We Go!, complicates my tidy little narrative. From one of the one-page shorts with which this title is filled, it is a brief story about Kitty driving around, getting a flat, and using My Melody's unicycle to replace the tire.

The most obvious difference is the style, which is most obviously explicable by way of the little lines that emanate from the characters' eyes. They aren't really expression lines or action lines or anything; they're just kind of there, looking real weird. Especially on My Melo.

But then, here is the vehicle, no longer absent. A car, too, that object which has, perhaps more than any other, totally restructured the way space works in the world for individuals, especially in America. From trucking to suburbs to sprawl, the automobile is sort of the antithesis of the expression of space; it's its silencing, at least in the form of distance. And yet here too is Kitty.

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