Saturday, January 10, 2009

Static and Motion: Pohadky & Ojingogo

Rob reviews two recent volumes from Drawn & Quarterly's "Petits Livres" series, Matthew Forsythe's OJINGOGO and Marek Colek & Pat Shewchuk's POHADKY.

One interesting series of books coming out from Drawn & Quarterly has been their "Petits Livres" line. These "little lives" books are physically small, heavier on image than word and highly idiosyncratic. The most recent books from the line, OJINGOGO (by Matthew Forsythe) and POHADKY (by Marek Colek & Pat Shewchuk), both tread in some similar territory. Both are interested in exploring the inherently neurotic nature of fairy tales and folk legend. These stories were not simply made to entertain, they were crafted to instruct and offer correctives through fear. OJINGOGO tells us of the adventures of a young girl and what would become her pet squid as they travel through a hazardous yet exciting world. This story emphasizes the flow of movement, as events tumble into each other. POHADKY is more of a cultural excavation, as Colek & Shewchuk take turns on roughly opposite pages exploring static images dealing with either loaded iconic symbols or the enduring lives of the characters invoked in these legends.

Forsythe's book calls to mind three different artists. The tightly-packed gags and adventure sketches reminds me a bit of Lewis Trondheim's work in books like MR I and MR O. The simultaneous sense of characters aimlessly wandering through their environment combined with the propulsive nature of the panel-to-panel transitions recall Mat Brinkman's silent adventure comics. The way we follow the adventures of a plucky girl through a trippy dreamscape where creatures often unexpectedly change size makes me think of Lewis Carroll's Alice books. Forsythe's character design has both charm and bite; the girl and her squid are both cute, but the squid attempts to eat her at first, and she's pretty much in constant danger.

The story, such as it is, is quite thin. Yet Forsythe never introduces a character that won't later have some use to the plot and eventual outcome of the story. He also keeps things lively by first introducing inanimate objects (such as a camera) and then having them surprisingly come to life. Forsythe continually ramps up the action by pulling back from the action to reveal yet another, larger, more threatening monster. Cleverly, he turns that size differential into an important plot point in the book's eventual resolution, turning a device that created tension into one that evoked laughter. This book started as a webcomic and it shows with the way Forsythe seems to be compelled to make each page its own comedic unit and the way he stitches them together as a continuing serial. The flow of the book is sometimes interrupted by two-page spreads that split apart single images. "Losing" part of the image was distracting, though I'm not sure there was a better solution with the material as he drew it. It'd be interesting to see what Forsythe comes up with when he doesn't choose to serialize his work.

POHADKY also proceeds silently, as intricate iconic symbols that have obvious power mixed with line drawings given life with a muted palette. The artists made the interesting decision of presenting their images without comment, providing an index only after they've concluded their images. The images in the drawings are archetypes: the crone, the soldier, Death, and even more familiar, modern figures (like the Capitalist). It's the sort of book that demands multiple readings to absorb the imagery and the way the artists are presenting an intentionally jumbled series of images. Many of the pages have a certain tension and energy to them by the way they are composed, even if the images are static. For example, "Witches, A Soldier a Donkey and a Black Cat" has the above figures floating above a city, huddled together as though they were waiting to be activated. Colek, who drew the images, is actually more effective in black & white than color. There's an almost primitive power to his b&w figures that his color images lack. Perhaps it's the difference between the visceral nature of a drawing and the more washed-out, storybook nature of a color image, but I found myself returning to Colek's spooky b&w drawings most of all.

OJINGOGO is a book for children to fall into, while POHADKY is more a book for adults to reflect on as they consider the roots of their own folklore. The former creates its own iconography as it follows a familiar storytelling path, while the latter is less about story than it is about the way images accrue weight and meaning over time in ways that expand beyond their original contexts.

1 comment:

  1. Hey cool! I haven't known about the Pohádky book! The drawings pleasently remind me of Werner Bergs paintings.

    Not that it would be to important, just cool to me....