Thursday, June 29, 2017

Comics-As-Poetry #8: Andrew White, Part IV

This post concludes my look at Andrew White's work within the context of comics-as-poetry. Next week, I'll start looking at Inkbrick.

M. This comic has three different stories, and the first story, "Clogged Drains, Forgotten Words" is one of White's most straightforward in terms of narrative. It's a story with a twelve-panel grid, with some of the panels collapsing into a square that's 2 x 2. Each page is from the point of view of either M. or Leo, and tells the story of their tense friendship. Leo's in love with M., but M. doesn't return the feeling, as he views them as just friends. White expertly captures that sense of unrequited love that nonetheless is given hope by a visit. There's almost a visceral sense of longing on Leo's part, even as it's repressed to the point where White crosses out some of the words in his narrative captions. White uses colored pencil in this story to contrast different emotions and memories, as he creates beats between words and images by having captions take up an entire panel. That creates a halting, broken pace that reflects how broken Leo feels and how damaged M. truly is as a person.

"Timeline" is an experimental comic along the lines of Chris Ware's "Lint" in that it follows one man's entire life narrative from beginning to end, but not in the same exhaustive manner that Ware did it. Using a fractured grid that spreads panels all over each two-page spread, the panels are different colors and sometimes overlap and bleed into each other. This lack of coherency reflects the characters lack of a strong self-narrative, of being a person who succumbed to inertia except when those around him got too close. There is a recurring nightmare that represents the way he buried his own sense of existential dread and never shared or confronted it, which leads him to turn away from others again and again.White uses a double-lettering technique where some letters overlap in different colors, with completely different messages--one of false contentment vs true regret at the end of one's life. "A Long List Of Good Reasons Why Not" is another story about alienation, but this time it's about a guy leaving his parents and siblings for a job. When he is miserable in his new environment, he makes a friend named Bernard, but the story elides just what the nature of their relationship is, though a romance of a kind is implied. It's the only one of the three stories that ends with a connection and a sense of hope, as White once again cycles through his color palette to tell the story's emotional narrative while keeping the drawings sketchy. It was interesting to see White delve into stories with so much emotional content, which is not typical of his work.

My Name Is Martin Shears. Using a 2 x 3 grid, White actually engages in a character study where the reader is constantly given clues but also kept in the dark as to what's unusual about the title character. White uses a very sketchy and frequently blank-faced pencil style in this story about a man who apparently misrepresents his identity on a constant basis. In particular, he passes himself off as Shears' lawyer, Robert Snively on the phone in an effort to get himself as Shears out of trouble, The story flashes back and forth from Shears' adult life to his schooling when he played rugby. There's also an implication that he tells his partner that he's working when he then goes to cruise the bars. There's a pointed scene when a woman he's chatting up asks point blank, "Tell me about YOU" and he freezes up, his hesitance depicted with an entirely absent face. There is no him, there is only this fictional identity he's cooked up entirely to exploit others. The art is sketchy and inchoate because Shears himself is not a fully-formed human being. The final scene is a telling one, where a woman stops him, thinking he was someone else. Of course, he is always someone else, just never himself.

While A Soft Fog Wanders. Unlike the other two comics, this one is entirely wordless--though not without dialogue. White employs a time-fracturing technique here further heightened by having all dialogue appear as blank word balloons. After every section, White deliberately put in two pages of black & gray and tells the reader to pause and hesitate before they continue. It's a smart strategy, as he is able to retain control of how the reader approaches the story, forcing them to linger on what they've just seen. It's good for the reader as well, because it forces them to pay attention to what they're seeing in an effort to contextualize it. In this case, the story seems to be about two women who become lovers over time, and a man stalking one of the women. Scenes of simple joys shared by the couple like baking or eating together are interspersed with a man watching them with binoculars, approaching a car in a menacing way and some pills being spread over a table. The comic remains ambiguous to the very end, with clues like the binoculars being broken and a bowl being knocked over seeming to indicate a struggle, but with what outcome? This is in many ways his most cinematic comic, focusing on the sequentiality of image as a narrative strategy in lieu of other standard narrative techniques.

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