Monday, August 29, 2016

Koyama: Ryan Dodgson, John Martz

Laurels of Xenon, by Ryan Dodgson. Though the title suggests some kind of sci-fi story, this is a book of meditative color drawings. The artist notes in a preface that they were done away from a city setting and were purposeful meditations on "memory, consciousness, depression and anxiety". I engaged each page of colorforms and quickly saw that that way the shapes were arranged (indeed, the fact that they were arranged in a particular way to create cohesive shapes) and in particular the ways in which the colors interacted had a powerful emotional effect. Like a Mark Rothko painting, the colors don't necessarily have a one-to-one correspondence with particular emotions, nor do the shapes and forms have reified meanings. The shapes are frequently unbalanced but still represent a harmonically defined structure. The way the the lines of color work together in parallel and slip in and out of each other in some of the pieces feels like a smoothly-working pattern at work, a beneficent system of some kind. More rigid shapes feel more oppressive somehow, especially when they don't all interact with each other. It paid off to look at each piece as a whole and then break it down shape by shape. Using this kind of hermeneutic approach had a powerful emotional effect for reasons I can't quite articulate, beyond the actual aesthetic experience itself. It had something to do with the ways in which the colors interacted, forming some kind of feedback loop that mixed grief and joy in equal measures. What makes the most sense to say about these pieces is that they all seem to be tools created by the artist for his own use, and in so doing he left their utility, beauty and function up to each individual reader.

Burt's Way Home, by John Martz. Martz is great at writing children's books that don't insult the intelligence of their readers, he's proficient at creating funny gags, and he's always good with a twist. This sweet and sad story is a cleverly framed and humane look at unthinkable loss. It follows young Burt, an anthropomorphic bird who's lost both of his parents to an accident, as he's sent to live with an anthropomorphic mouse named Lydia. Burt processes their deaths by believing with all his heart that he and his parents were in fact actually time-travelling aliens, and that he had to find a way to get home. His process of trying to find ways to get home and "rebuild" his technology reminded me a bit of what Lewis Trondheim did in Astronauts of the Future, only in that case the fantasy turned out to be incontrovertibly true. While Martz does leave a tiny bit of hope in this story, the truth can be found in the narrative from Lydia's point of view: that she can't imagine Burt's pain, she wishes she could help, and she would do anything to comfort him. In the book's climax, what's important is that Burt expresses some of his emotions to Lydia and understands for the first time what home means to him now. What makes the book so heartbreaking and emotionally authentic is the detail Martz spends on Burt's plan, as he cannibalizes a bunch of household electronic appliances in order to make his gadget. Every aspect of Burt's plan is carried out in his own spoken narrative with word balloons, whereas Lydia's narrative is printed on the face following each image, indicating a level of distance and perspective she has about what's going on. Martz's combination of clever storytelling and empathy for his characters makes his comics consistently winning.

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