Andy Warner is an interesting CCS grad in that he has effortlessly bridged the gap between Applied Cartooning in the form of research & reportage and his own personal, slice-of-life work .The Palace Of Ashes is a perfect example of long-form reportage that one would probably call a "feature" if it appeared in a newspaper. It's a thorough, interview-driven account of how an old San Francisco creamatorium called the Columbarium has been slowly restored by a single man named Emmitt Watson. Warner has the gift of being a solid naturalistic cartoonist, capable of conveying tiny but crucial details regarding a subject. He's not quite at Joe Sacco level (who is?), but he's definitely in that style shared by the likes of Josh Neufeld. Solid, utilitarian cartooning that gets at the details and the facts while telling someone's story. And this comic is less about the building than it is one man's life's work, a work he knows he will not complete. It's a simple, beautiful story.
Warner treats his fictional characters with the same degree of care and compassion, even if their paths are a little more crooked and winding. When We Were Kids, a collection of short stories originally published in the first three issues of the anthology Irene, has a remarkable sense of continuity both in terms of theme and in style. Each of them is about an intimate but not sexual relationship and the ways in which that relationship takes on a special resonance due to circumstances. In "Come Into My Heart", for example, a pair of teens drop acid and walk to the sand dunes. The unnamed boy confesses to his friend, an unnamed girl, that his drama teacher made him perform a sexual act as punishment for not finishing an assignment. The confession comes as the boy is at the same time keeping both his friend and the world at arm's length, only to symbolically let her in when they have to huddle in the wind in order to light a cigarette. It's a clear but nicely crafted metaphor, one that's not belabored.
The same goes for "Champions", about a young boy's adoration of his live-wire older brother. Living in a house with an abusive stepfather, he sees in his older brother's reckless disregard for any kind of authority or sense a sort of heroic virtue. As his drunk brother prepares to go on a snowmobile race, Warner doesn't have to tell the reader the outcome of the race for the message to be clear: this is a doomed situation. Finally, "Boat Life" is the gentlest of the three stories. It's about a pair of friends in a classic Enid/Becky (from Ghost World) situation: one of them is going off the college and the other is staying home. How they carefully negotiate their future (through the language of put-downs and trash talking) is grafted to the graveyard setting, where the duo is getting high and dodging the creepy caretaker. While still firmly ensconced in their old paradigm of friendship, they take small, tentative steps to create a new one. Every one of these stories is about finding one's role, all of them to varying degrees of success. Warner's stories are polished without being overly slick and always try to get at the essential humanity behind every character.