Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Poetic Images of Kimball Anderson

Kimball Anderson is a cartoonist experimenting with abstract comics, comics-as-poetry and other interesting techniques for creating offbeat forms of sequential narrative. In particular, Anderson seems interested in juxtaposing dialogue against abstract or shadowy images. For example, I Don't Get It can be interpreted in a few ways. Judging from the dialogue alone, it's about one person trying to evaluate and negotiate his relationships with several other people through a conversation with another friend. The person feels misunderstood, even as they judge the motives and things other people have said to and about them. The dialogue is presented on each page with a number of captions, each one being a blurred series of color splotches. It's like trying to look through a window in the rain, or see your reflection in a dusty mirror. One interpretation of the comic is that this is actually a monologue spoken in front of a mirror; lines like "I just feel like...I'm a reflection of everyone I've ever met" seem to offer that up as a hint. Another take might be that the shapes and colors represent emotions and feelings, and there seems to be something to that as well--the patterns do not feel random.

Hands 1: Objects feels more like a writing exercise/phenomenological investigation. Drawn in a photorealist style in pencil, each drawing of a hand holding a new objects asks questions like "What is it?", "How does it feel?", "Are there memories in it?", "Is it a symbol?" It's a clever concept, especially at the end when the objects are post-it notes containing questions, giving the whole comic a recursive quality. It's phenomenology-as-narrative, as each question is designed to evoke a feeling but also to use the evidence of one's senses to truly consider objects beyond their average, everyday understanding of them. Inside features full-color, cartoony art with an interesting panel design concept. In this story of an extreme agoraphobe told from his point of view, there's not so much a traditional panel-to-panel set of transitions as there as a cascade of images contained in panels, each loosely connected to the patches of text that make up the narrative captions. It is a sympathetic portrait of someone trapped by mental illness, one where the narrator tries to pathologize himself as little as possible and even explore certain creative and comforting aspects of his condition. Anderson's skill is evident in all of these experiments, wisely keeping them all relatively short.

Anderson's full-length "poem comic about not being ready to let go", Okay Okay, combines the narrative and visual elements of their other comics. Instead of speech balloons, there are narrative captions, some of which are dialogue and others of which are told in the third person. The character design is naturalistic on some pages and sketch & cartoony on others. There are single-color washes used on some pages, smaller uses of spot color in some panels and the occasional large color splotch on others that look like water color paint drippings. The resulting atmosphere is dreamy, halfway between creating life on the page and letting the reader know that these are lines and splashes of paint on paper, that it was constructed and built. There's always a sense where the reader and characters alike are being kept off-balance. Characters build up barriers, while others come close to touching but veer away in an asymptotic fashion. Even when some characters touch physically, Anderson points out that this isn't the same as letting them in emotionally. The book follows a twisting, spiraling path around the relationships of several characters, some of which are real and others of which are fantasy. An all-pervasive fear of touch, of allowing one's self to be known by another (in all senses of that term) pervades the book as different characters attempt to cope in a variety of ways, with art being the most obvious response. Anderson suggests that true connection can only occur when one's fantasies and self-deceptions are stripped away, a process that sometimes requires a tremendous leap of faith. That's just what happens at the end of the book, as two seemingly separate stories suddenly merge as two individuals who experienced isolation and connection with different results come together, with a truer path laying ahead of them. Anderson is still in the stage of figuring things out as an artist in terms of style, technique and approach. There is occasionally a labored quality to Anderson's work, and it lacks a certain fluidity at times as a result. That was certainly true in Okay Okay, their most ambitious comic to date, but one senses that the rough patches in the comic (mostly in terms of body language, bodies in space and other spatial issues) are ones that will be smoothed over in time. Kimball Anderson is certainly a promising addition to the small pool of cartoonists specializing in comics-as-poetry, and Anderson's focus on both ontological and social concerns makes these comics especially intriguing.

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