Irene continues to be a consistently well-edited, designed and produced anthology. Each issue is a self-contained and coherent entity, even as certain themes and artists tend to pop up from issue to issue. Editors DW, Dakota McFadzean and Andy Warner are the essence of the anthology, as each brings elements of their own aesthetics and methods to the book, both in terms of the actual stories and the contributors who are selected for each issue. Warner's naturalism, McFadzean's emphasis on open spaces and how they can be haunted (both figuratively and literally) and DW's mark-making weirdness make for a surprisingly even blend, in part because all three show a remarkable amount of flexibility and respect with regard to the points of view of their fellow editors.
Irene 4 features a number of stories that can be called personal, even if they aren't directly autobiographical. For example, Jan Burger's fanciful tale of his child being called forth from his wife's womb by the family cat is a warm and wonderful story about waking up to the demons that keep us distracted from what's important: being creative. Burger's supple line makes it perfect for fantasy stories such as this. Then there are directly autobiographical stories like Georgia Webber's "Access", which is about the injury she suffered that made it hard for her to speak. In this short, she talks about social media and how easy it is for her to get lost in it, because she doesn't have to be conscious of her injury. At the same time, in this story full of cascading windows, she understands that a life filled with nothing but social media is an empty one. Jai Granofsky's "Cauliflower" walks the line between the two, as a series of dream sketches and gags about pizza, what "comics" are and the logic of cauliflower.
Warner's interest in reportage drew in a couple of entries. Emi Gennis is well-known for her interest in unusual deaths, and in "Nyos" she reports, in her typical naturalistic style, of how an eruption of carbon dioxide from a nearby lake killed nearly everyone in an African village. The point she hits on that's interesting is that the mysteriousness of the event made the very few survivors think that the world had ended, and wondered when they left if anyone would be there to see them. Jackie Roche's "Black Boots" takes a micro view of a big event: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. You might know that he was taken to a room across the street; what you might not know is that the room was a boarding room rented to a soldier named William T. Clarke, who later charged admission to his room for morbidly curious onlookers. "A Dream", by Warner & McFadzean, has the feel of reportage, as it's about a woman recalling a dream she had about imprisoning her brother, only to have her situation reversed. It's very much a "tell not show" story, as the artists are more interested in evoking the sense of a story being told then telling that specific story.
DW's presence can certainly be felt as well. He crafted a story surrounding the interstitial characters from a prior issue, "Veronica And The Good Guys" that Warner drew in his mixed cartoony/ naturalistic style, about a rock band being chased by a planet full of "bad guys" hungry for their skins. Amy Lockhart's "Drawings" fit in with DW's aesthetic; this weird mix of stippled, naturalistic anatomy with big foot/big nose qualities warps reader expectations. Carlista Martin's gender-bending, highly detailed drawings tread similar ground but with an entirely different approach. "Generals and Gods" features McFadzean writing and DW drawing a story of possibly misplaced mercy. The Mat Brinkman-inspired line is the only visual approach I could have imagined for this story. "Walk Like You Mean It" combines DW's cut-up text technique with the drawings of Power Paola, and the resulting cute/weird imagery looks like something out of Paper Rodeo.
Finally, the stories that defy categorization. Mazen Kerbaj (almost certainly brought in by Warner) has a story called "Boats", which is a hilarious treatment of boats as anthropomorphic beings that actually hate water. Luke Howard's "Zapruder 313" is about two guys sitting around watching the Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy getting killed. It's less a morbid exercise than it is a simple exploration of the idea of how things can be one way one second and then radically different the next. James Hindle's "Yellow Plastic" is Hindle's best-ever story. It's a story about a teen meeting a mysterious girl who appears and disappears suddenly from his life, the sort of person who leaves a mark on a guy even if their interactions were brief. Laura Terry's "The Dark" is a visceral, disturbing story about addiction and self-destruction couched as a fantasy about a shadow creature encouraging such behavior in a woman desperate to get away from it. It's one of her most powerful stories, one that still uses her witty and clear line but subverts it for emotionally devastating effect.
Irene #5 follows a similar path in terms of genre, mark-making, illustration personal stories and reportage. The cast of characters, other than the three editors, is entirely different. "Fire Truck Duck" is by Warner, and it's a touching bit of quite sincere nostalgia regarding how their father used to tell them stories, and how the occasional recording, preserved today, recreates the experience to a degree. Dave Ortega's "como un tren" is a different kind of memoir, one about his family's journey from Mexico to El Paso and religious freedom. The sketchiness of the art reflects the artist's own struggle in telling the story of someone else, of knowing when to invoke creative license and when to stick precisely to the facts.
After that is an incredibly clever cartoon by R.Sikoryak mashing together the long-running Simpsons with the Tyrones of Eugene O'Neill's semiautobiographical play, A Long Day's Journey Into Night. The idea of Homer as James Tyrone (a successful actor pigeonholed into a single role) parallels the notion of the Simpsons becoming cultural icons at the expense of the overall quality of the series. That, and some Bosch-inspired drawings by Emanuel Schongut, provide a palate-cleanser for the longest piece in the book: a story written by the FDZ and drawn by Fouad Mezher called "The Fifth Column". It's a story set in Lebanon, by Lebanese cartoonists (once again, Warner's connections come into play here). It's a story that starts as something personal, then political, and then slowly descends into total horror. That horror is born of reality, of roaming packs of dogs and checkpoints, which makes it all the more chilling.
Following that bit of naturalistically-drawn genre is a bit of mark-making lunacy with DW and Mark Connery. Luke Healy's "Mountain Take Me" is another cornerstone of this issue, one that I've covered elsewhere. After a bit of comedic weirdness from James Stanton and Bailey Sharp (the former in the tradition of underground artists, the latter more like Anders Nilsen), Pat Barrett's "You Are We" is a tremendous bit of sci-fi combined with the possibilities and difficulties surrounding identity. Jon Chad's "Compleet Pwner" is a hilarious, nasty and deliciously drawn fine-line extravaganza featuring monsters, spaceships and the moon. In other words, all the things he does well. DW follows these two genre stories with something that's purely him: mark-making and pattern-creation in the service of exploring consciousness through the use of repurposed text.
Finally, Dan Rinylo and McFadzean contribute two stories that dwell on ontological concerns. For Rinylo, it's being given an absurd and meaningless tour of the world by a higher being, who shows him his total insignificance in the face of things when he complains about the stupid stuff he's being show. For McFadzean, it's a memory of using clay to create creatures called Gnoshlox; it's a child's magical realist memory that supersedes anything that came earlier. In both cases, pondering meaning is fruitless, even though it's something we either can't resist trying or can't stop from entering our minds. McFadzean's stories always linger in one's mind when he talks about the lives of children, not unlike an Eleanor Davis. That's why it's so exciting to see him collaborate with like minds as well as creators he respects who work in an entirely different style; it's clear that editing Irene has stretched all three of the editors.