Thursday, January 26, 2017

Minis From Marnie Galloway

Marnie Galloway is one of the most significant new talents of the last five years, and after finishing the highly work-intensive book In The Sounds And Seas, she's unsurprisingly become much more prolific. Regarding the third and final self-published volume of that series, Galloway's narrative becomes quite grim in its allegory about the struggle of trying to create something. The central and repeating motif of this series is weaving, as the three central women of the narrative at first weave their voices together in song, appearing as fish, birds and rabbits. Their eventual goal became making and sailing a ship, with one of the three women becoming literally intertwined with the ship as its captain as her crewmates wove the ship's ropes into her long hair. The voyage to an unspecified location (deliberately so) was a success when they had their harbinger of good luck, a crow, with them. When the crow died, disaster struck.

Disaster came in the form of a brutal story that was the visual highlight of the entire series. Galloway's use of the grid became more and more expansive, varying from four panels to entire pages per panel. Her dense hatching and cross-hatching created a foreboding atmosphere, and the thick blacks helped create a sense of total, blind panic. One of the crew was swept overboard, and the other crewmember tied herself to the captain's hair/rope in order to dive in after her in the midst of the howling storm. The result was for naught, as both crewmembers were lost, and the weeping captain turned the ship around in an effort to find them. After days of dropping anchor and her hair in hopes of them being alive, she brought the ship aground on an island. She then spent days without purpose, acting solely in survival mode as she lay on the hammock, slept, woke and wept. When she accidentally set the ship on fire, she had to cut off her long hair to free herself from the ropes. This sent her back to the drawing board in designing another ship. Meanwhile, the reader discovers that one of the crew is still alive, hanging on some flotsam, until she dives beneath the waves to merge into that wave of fish, birds and rabbits from early in the story.

What Galloway seems to be getting at in this series is an examination of creativity, collaboration and sisterhood. The three women may not literally be sisters, but they are comrades in heeding and feeling the call to create something together. The song whose notes they sing in harmony is about living things, the urge to explore nature and one's environment. It's a song that never ends, as long as one is willing to give over one's life to it. The voyage doesn't have a goal because the destination is the journey itself: the time spent together, working together, playing together. It's a delicate balance that can be thrown off course or even destroyed by bad luck, circumstance and tragedy. In the end, the remaining sisters find themselves starting from square one as creators, because there is no differentiation between creation and asserting one's existence and quest for meaning. It is telling that Galloway's first major work as a cartoonist is about  the process of creation and the hard, boring and work-intensive nature of that process in the form of tying knots and constructing a boat. The song is the joyous spark of inspiration, which is followed by drudgery that eventually has a payoff. The fact that she drew this in the most work-intensive manner possible short of stippling every image shows how she perhaps thought of this five-year process as her own rocky maiden voyage, with her collaborators being different aspects of her self. The fact that the ship seems to fail at the end of the story seems to reflect the way that nearly every work by an artist never matches up to the idealism form from their imagination--that song of inspiration. The end seems to be a way of saying that this sort of failure was OK and even necessary, and that everyone simply needed to get back to work. It's a beautiful shot across the proverbial bow for a young cartoonist announcing her skill, her work ethic, her storytelling prowess and her sheer ambition.

What one discovers in her other minis is that by making the choice to make her first major work silent, Galloway decided to work with one hand behind her back, because she's a lyrical writer. Particle/Wave, for example, is an autobio comic published by So What? Press, and it's a heartbreaking story of familial loss with a high concept that goes beyond simply being clever and is in fact essential to the way the story is told. It's a flip comic, with each of its two stories meeting in the middle in a two-page spread of the moon. The title refers to the dual nature of light, which behaves in some ways like a series of particles and behaves in other ways like a wave--depending on how one observes it. One story features Galloway talking about her missing brother, who chose to remove himself from the lives of his family, a little at a time. Galloway is truly a formalist tinkerer in terms of layout, and there's a restlessness on each page that mimics Galloway's general sense of unease that she expresses throughout. On the first two pages, she flips between images of her waiting for her brother with black panels with white text, as the reader slowly comes to understand what's going on. The third page's first two panels have no borders, as her inability to sleep is made literal on the page with the intensity of the hatching on the blanket. After that interruption, she resumes the panel/black panel flip until we finally learn it's her brother that she's talking about.

The rest of the story is devoted to a mourning ritual, as she smokes one of his cigars, drinks his whiskey and listens to his music under a cold night sky. Tears mix with the visceral experience of the cigar, the whiskey and the cold, her every sense being pounded as she comes to the understanding that the ritual can never let her actually let her say good-bye to him. Her brother is the wave displacing particles, not caring about the effect he's having. In the flip story, Galloway goes big in discussing the origin of the Earth and moon, which is that the Earth collided with a smaller-sized planet, resulting in its remains revolving around Earth after both bodies cooled down. Galloway noted that an astronomer named that body Theia, after the Greek Titan that gave birth to the sun, dawn and earth, but that in so doing, erased her story since the planet was destroyed. "What a bro move", she wryly noted. In this story Galloway once again brought up family, this time in the face of the impending birth of her son. The images depicted the impact and the bodies smoothing over after a long period of time, while her text reflected stories of how her mother raised her, of how blowing a kiss off the moon became a family tradition, and wondering how her son will see the moon. In other words, how will she connect with him on a personal level, and how will she be able to find ways to connect him to missing loved ones, like her brother? Here, she and her son are both waves, spreading out throughout the universe, with an uncertain impact. There's a sense of hope but also trepidation to be found in a story where every page is a fairly detailed space drawing, providing a perfect counterpoint to the way she went small in the other story.

Burrow finds Galloway working in fiction but also drawing from her own experience in some ways. This is an interesting comic because Galloway eschewed a lot of her heavier effects and instead went for a clear-line style in the tradition of Megan Kelso. Indeed, some of the lettering effects, the bulky figure work, and even the faces remind me a lot of Kelso's best comics. Despite those similarities, Galloways' authorial voice is very much her own in this story of a single mother coming home late at night with her infant and settling in, exhausted, into her burrow. There's a flashback to time spent in the jungle as a mycologist and a relationship that started falling apart. Galloway draws parallels between the species she observed as a scientist and the raw animal quality of being a mother taking care of her young like any other species. The mother is depicted as a powerful woman with a body that has some gravitas to it. Galloway is one of the few cartoonists I've ever seen draw a woman's body after pregnancy right: filled out in certain places, scars in others, and constantly coiled like a spring to protect her child.

What makes this mini interesting is the way Galloway captures the near-psychosis that sleep deprivation can induce in a new mother, and in this case it's a poetic hallucination of the jungle and her living room sharing her same space, even as her body merges with the jungle. It's an elegant, extended visual metaphor that fits in with the staccato quality of the mother's narrative voice--almost a chant or a drone about a sense of hyperawareness of one's state, of once again feeling like an animal when her baby is feeding, of the sensation of burrowing like an animal to stay safe in a dangerous forest. Living in a world of limited sleep, being awakened in the middle of the night and being a part of new and incredibly important rituals is all a part of the dreamlike quality of having newborns. In a dream world, so much more is possible.

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