By Abby Wojcik
Assistant Features Editor
Caitlin Cass is a young local comic artist unlike any other. She draws and constructs counterfeit historical exhibits inspired by weird facts and failures throughout history. She has two books, several mini comics, and various mobile construction pieces. Her comics have been published in magazines, and her constructions have been exhibited in Buffalo, Rochester, and Washington D.C. On Wednesday evening, Caitlin Cass gave a talk about her work at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center on Delaware Ave.
Cass began the event by reading and showing the audience one of her most recent comics, titled “Little Mister,” about a very small boy who becomes a role model for other boys by promoting his political opinions. On the surface, her stories are childlike and lighthearted, but this one has underlying criticisms of American privilege and sexism.
She also showed some of her most well known constructions projects. These are different from her comics because they are made from objects made and found by Cass. They tell the story of a historical time while staying consistent with her unique signature style of embellishing the facts. One of the constructions, Munroe Brother Rivalry, is about The War of 1812. This war ended in a stalemate, but in Cass’s version, it ended because of a rivalry between two brothers; all that was left behind was Andrew Jackson’s left ear.
Other examples of characters Cass depicts in her historic comics are Ivy Lee, Paul Bunyan, and Buffalo entrepreneur Benjamin Rathbun. She writes about aspects of these people’s lives that the majority of people are not aware of. She also fabricates factors of the story to put emphasis on certain things and more effectively convey her message. Her exaggerations are not hidden or disguised as truth. Rather, they are obvious and what make her art humorous.
For example, a motif in her pieces is to draw characters as literally bigger or smaller than real life. This allows for a way to symbolically and visually show something about their personality. She does this in “Benjamin Rathbun Builds Buffalo,” “Little Mister,” and others.
Her work exaggerates history by giving it a sense of humor and pokes fun at believing things purely because they are accounted in history books. She said that she wants “viewers to look at history with a new sense of wonder because when it comes to history, the fiction often feels more believable than the facts.” Her use of exaggeration is slightly different from the way common American folklore does it. In those cases the exaggeration is meant to promote a business or idea. Cass’ is done “more like affliction that plagues people. It’s a physicalizing of psychological torment or an on going problems that these people have,” she described.
All of her work goes under the production title of Great Moments in Western Civilization. It is comprised of drawings, constructions, postal constituents, comics, and things that move. Interestingly, Cass’s postal constituents are original monthly comics sent out to subscribers. She researches a topic and then creates a comic every month that anyone can receive for $2.00 a month, and currently, about 70 people subscribe to her work.
From those in attendance, it was clear that she had a following of individuals who admire her and her art greatly. Fans brought copies of her book to have her sign, asked her many questions, and were very engaged in the presentation. The youngest person there was a young boy named Hugo, and he was so thrilled to meet Caitlin Cass. He brought his own sketch book to take notes and doodle along with her. Hugo even asked to take a picture with her because he felt like he was meeting a celebrity.
Caitlin Cass and her projects have no primary motivation and interest at all in being believed in. Normally crowds seek approval, clarity, and something to stand for. People are confused when they cannot believe in something. Cass says that “I want an audience that questions, wonders, judges, and questions their judgements. I want an audience that reflects on the world as we’ve experienced it. A world riddled with flaws and grey areas and new forms of authenticity.” This is why she mixes folklore, tall tales, and actual history in the retellings of her work.
Cass also looks at history to better understand the present. By challenging her viewers and readers not to take her work as completely factual, she challenges them to also question other things that they see in their daily life. Along with some luck, Cass says that “being in on the gag, spotting, the counterfeit, trying to decipher facts from alternative facts in the safety of distant history will help us all become just a tiny bit better at doing it in the present.”