Monday, June 5, 2017

Comics-As-Poetry #6: Andrew White, Part II

My look at Andrew White's comics-as-poetry continues with three more comics.

Read and Erase. White describes this as a "spiritual sequel" to Ley Lines #4, which analyzed Pablo Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein. The size, format and even color of the mini mimic the first comic to remarkably exacting degrees. This is a beautiful account of the relationship between Stein and her wife, Alice Toklas. It's bookended by correspondence between Picasso and Stein, notable for Picasso's desperation while struggling early in his career (including multiple requests for money) vs later in his career, when Stein begs him to write or visit, desperately missing her friend. The comic is written in the cadence of Stein's prose and White's images mimic the shadowy, almost foggy quality of the Ley Lines comic. White uses a 2 x 4 grid here to create a rhythmic understanding of Stein & Toklas' life, one where Stein thought and wrote and where Toklas took care of other things. This is a comic about the differences between speech and writing, about the ways in which some really smart people have difficulty functioning on a day-to-day basis, and about relationships with a perfectly symbiotic balance.

The first half of the book is from Stein's point of view, ending with love notes written to Toklas. The back half of the book is from Toklas' point of view after Stein has died, and the grid suddenly becomes 2 x 2, reflecting how half of this unit has been taken away. The longer panels with much more negative space also reflect the sense of loss and emptiness that Toklas felt, but the steady rhythm of the grid also reflected the way her simple daily rituals and mission to publish Stein's work kept her going. At heart though, she never felt the same again with Stein gone. White's comics aren't usually this emotionally wrenching, but he earns every ounce of feeling expressed in these pages in the way that he structured it. It's among his very best comics, with its only problem being that some of the lettering is very hard to read because of the publication process.

This Is A Brick Wall. The comic was "inspired by the work of Sol Lewitt", a conceptual artist whose work often came in the form of instructions on various permutations of things that others would draw. In a sense, his work continues long after his death as his instructions continue to be carried out. This comic starts with the invocaton "Hello. Pick up a pencil if you want and follow me." From there, White takes the reader through a number of panels with statements and instructions regarding the tactile nature of the comic as well as instructions on drawing, from circles, to symbols, to imagine something being blue, drawing sounds, images in one's own head (and whether or not you would want to draw that image). It's a conceptually simple but quite compelling mini that I read multiple times, marveling at its immersive structure.

Tides. This is among White's simpler comics, both in terms of tone and execution. Using a 2 x 4 grid, he tells the story of summer in a beach town and how a teenage boy and girl made a connection and what that connection meant years later. White uses a fairly thick line here, reminiscent of Dash Shaw, and modulates mood and emotion through the use of colored pencil. He fills in a lot of details with blue in particular, and that color gives the story a certain lightness. Green indicates warmth, as when the boy meets the girl and she invites him to go to a swimming hole. The girl is red, indicating mystery. They meet up again years later, with him not knowing to expect, and she shows him a gnarled tree in the middle of the desert, claiming no one knows what it's doing there. It's colored red, of course. They each have their own kind of purity and are drawn to each other because of it, yet they are also horribly mismatched. White depicts a relationship with a particular kind of frisson that can only last for a brief time.

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