Char Esme makes her comic collages from crayons, cut-up magazines, digital tools, and precious thrift store finds. A self-proclaimed “sci-fi artist” living in Queens, and a graduate from the School of Visual Arts, she collects toys, dolls, and novelty objects of character from local dollar stores. These friends and foes become regular figures in Esme’s fierce comics and delirious animations.
“When I was young, I was given a realistic porcelain doll. I kept staring at her, waiting for the day that she would come to life and speak to me,” says Esme.“I would finally have a friend. It was a little bit scary because what if she was evil? I knew it was just a matter of time. Unfortunately, she never spoke to me, but those childhood friends never lost their magical potential.”
More of What Women Want is a short comic that Esme made in 2015 for issue 8 of a zine called Rock and Rose by Chloe Maratta. The piece is a jumble of snippets from free mail order catalogs for women, all cut, pasted, rearranged, and typed out again like a frantic advertisement from an imminent dystopian future. It’s a confused yet carefully formulated expression of refusal and submission, causing an anxiety-induced, insomniac daze that’s part Twilight Zone, part late-night beauty infomercials.
“I think a lot of my work comes from a place of extreme anger about what it means to be a woman, which is bottled up inside me like a volcano. But it’s also funny and makes me laugh in an insane, evil kind of way,” says Esme, who created More of What Women Want during a particularly stressful time in her life. The process of gluing and sticking the piece together was like sitting bang in the middle of the “eye of a storm”—a whirlwind of tangled wigs, lacy socks, plastic crystals, and shimmering gold tassels.
“I try to keep the same aesthetic that I’ve loved my whole life, which looks like I ripped a bunch of magazines apart in a manic rage and then, like a good girl, neatly glued them back in place with a chuckle. A lot of it is done by hand, but the neat and tidy parts are done with digital tools, like a surgeon. Very clean, with a lot of dirt underneath.”
In collaboration with artist Lauren Poor, Esme also creates Queasy’s Smileybean Emporium, a “catalog of dreams” full of fictional products only available in your dreams. The overarching feeling flicking through these overcrowded pamphlets of obsession and entropy? Capitalism is terrifying.
But Esme has her own clever methods to counter-act Capitalism’s effects: sickening gradients, kaleidoscopes of bright color, and the frantic cut-and-paste arrangements of her work—tricks she employs to hypnotize and subdue her malleable audience. “If you see all those colors and playful things you’re going to relax,” she says with a glint in her eye. “It will put you in a childlike state, ready to play and to be receptive so that you can absorb important information, and you won’t even notice. It’s kind of like brainwashing, but I think my intentions are good. It’s the ‘good’ kind of brainwashing. Trust me.”