Thursday, May 4, 2017

Simon Moreton of the Week #1: Plans We Made

Simon Moreton is one of my favorite artists to emerge in the last five or so years. His style, which has evolved past influences like John Porcellino and Warren Craghead, is elegantly stripped down, meditative but active and fascinated by the past but not weighed down by nostalgia. I have a number of books and minis by him to examine, so I thought I'd do a bit at a time, starting with Plans We Made, a 2015 volume published by Uncivilized Books.

The book is a look back at time spent in the suburbs growing up and into his teen years. The dominant theme here is one of inhabiting that sense of special, sublime time spent as a youth, where moments in real time simultaneously become beloved memories. Moreton's bold but spare line is perfect in providing just enough detail to inhabit those memories along with Moreton, to get a sense of the emotional narrative of running around his neighborhood as a boy, playing in the forest, claiming a chunk of land as theirs. At the same time, Moreton starts to build a competing emotional narrative as he grows older and his circle of friends expands: a sense of needing to escape, to move on to something bigger. Those two strong impulses circled each other, as Moreton's mastery of his territory started to feel like treading the same ground over and over. At the same time, the pull of his friends is beautifully depicted in small anecdotes like watching a building catch fire from their vantage point in the forest and being struck by the strangeness of it all. It's an experience marked in their memories as something atypical in their daily patterns, their daily interactions that were driven to creak a spark. That spark is the sublime quality of feeding off of and feeding others in conversation, in love, in closeness and in treasuring simple, small moments. It's an evasive feeling frequently blunted by the mundane aspects of everyday life, but Plans We Made reads like a narrative not so much of events but of exceptions to the daily grind.

Each story was an exception, forging a group memory. Moreton uses very little text in telling his stories, and the spareness of that text is often simple but poetic in nature. More often than not, he prefers to let his line do the talking in terms of capturing and explaining an experience. The trees, the lines of houses, the heat of the sun, the blare of the radio, body language at parties: even as things become more complex emotionally, they retain that same simplicity in form in terms of the drawing, as well as in scale. There's a brutal scene where it's implied that Moreton breaks up with a girlfriend and she urges him to go, and we see him on that brutal, solitary walk home. He's alone with his thoughts and the familiar surroundings are not comforting to him. The last section of the book, where he's alone in his house for a month as his parents are away, happen to coincide with 9/11. It was a final moment of not quite understanding himself, or the world, in that moment. It recorded perhaps the last time he felt at home in some sense. Sitting outside the house with his friend, trying to make sense of it all, trying to connect all the dots of his life, nothing quite fit.

It wasn't a part of his life that had a definitive conclusion; rather, he was there until he left, and all that remained were the memories that had changed from pure, innocent joy to an aching impatience mixed with a profound sense of connection. Moreton does it with a slow pace, with single panels or images taking up one page (and not even all of it, much of the time), as he wanted to portray a sense of looking at the page reliving the memory in the same amount of time. At the same time, detail mattered less than impressions, and so the hints at trees and houses and neighborhoods got sketchier in some segments, and slightly more detailed in others. The way in which Moreton takes his time and in so doing makes the reader take their time as well, is the key to emotionally inhabiting each scene and letting the reader in on these feelings. It's an honest, gentle, and bittersweet account of the feeling of having close friends, a first love and a place to explore.

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