Thursday, August 10, 2017

Comics-as-Poetry #10: Inkbrick #4

The comics-as-poetry anthology Inkbrick's fourth issue was the best to date, thanks to powerhouse bookend entries from Keren Katz and Sasha Steinberg. The former's "Marks On The Attendance Sheet" is a tense, sexually charged story about a teacher and a student told from the student's perspective. Katz's use of impossible angles on an open-page layout creates the illusion of there being panels on the page, only it looks like they're caving in and/or putting the characters into these extreme, oblique angles. There's a lack of neat order on each of the pages, which is further exacerbated by Katz's intense and textural use of color, to the point where it looks like she's exploring the aesthetic of textiles. Arms and legs bend at strange angles, boot-tips droop, colors and patterns surround line and a number of other visual signifiers are at work to express the sense of feeling upside down that the narrator is experiencing. She's feeling unbalanced and dizzy in this relationship, feeling thrills and doubts and disappointment all at once. It's a brilliant short piece, probably the best in Inkbrick to date.

This issue was printed in 2015, a couple of years before Sasha Steinberg achieved international fame as Sasha Velour, the drag artist. However, this piece should be easily accessible to fans of Steinberg's drag work, given that it works with Velour's trademark bald head. The piece, "What Now?" is about Steinberg grieving his recently-deceased mother, and it makes extensive use of negative white space. Alternating between huge swaths of red, black and green, we see Sasha going from room to room (in his mother's house presumably), dizzyingly processing (one word per panel) the new reality of her absence. Later, a series of panels alternate between Steinberg spreading her ashes in the snow and melting away in the house. The last two panels are killers: another silhouette of a dress, this time with a hat, with the next panel being a photo of his mother in precisely the same position. It's a beautiful, touching exploration of what it means to exist in one moment and to disappear the next, and what those ideas mean when you leave a loved one behind you. This was the first comics-as-poetry piece I had seen from Steinberg, and it was powerful and sincere.

Another welcome presence in the issue was that of David Lasky, a pioneer of comics-as-poetry. This issue featured an experiment in juxtaposing a textual memory against unrelated images; in this case, it was several images he redrew from London's National Gallery. The best poetry, in my opinion, is that which has concrete images. That's why Lasky's later piece, which provides simple descriptions of activities "Streetlight walks, Electric fan in the hall, Shadows and breeze" is so powerful, particularly since the images take off from those concrete descriptions and becomes plays of light and shadow, focusing on small, singular images that almost look concrete out of context.

Many of the cartoonists make good use of the fact that Inkbrick is in full color. Laurel Lynn Leake's juxtaposition of color as representative of environment is abstracted in part because of the way she compares it to depression and that "thoughts can trap you". There's the implication that staying mindful is crucial even when being presented with the pure beauty of one's environment. Isuri Merenchi Hewage & Deshan Tennekoon are more direct in their piece "August In Pasikuda", as a single color, displayed on each page in different patterns but all in a grid, represent a different time of day and different activity in the same locale. The use of light, texture and an especially rich mix of colors, along with the concrete descriptions, powerfully evoke a sense of time and place in an almost visceral manner. It's interesting that they concretize color to create a sense of time and place, whereas Leake abstracts the same color patterns we see in nature to reflect inward.

Kate Schneider's "May" takes familiar, comforting images as a kind of bulwark against the stress she felt regarding an upcoming surgical procedure. It starts with lightly-drawn pictures of her cat, then the trees outside, and finally simply the night sky. It's not as sophisticated, visually or otherwise, as the other pieces in the book, but there's a sincerity to it that makes it work. Not every use of color is effective. Hayley Fiddler's "Waves" uses light blue as the sole tone in her poem about infidelity that switches from an undersea oyster to a couple getting ready. The use of color is obvious here and doesn't add anything when she switches from under the water to a bedroom, and the idea for the poem is not especially remarkable. The same is true about Paul Tunis' otherwise clever piece about pomegranates; it would have conveyed precisely the same information if it was in black and white.

A lot of the pieces involve melting, shifting and otherwise transforming into something new. William Cardini's piece takes his garish, computer-generated imagery and creates something quite beautiful with it, as his creature talks about being thrown into the river and their mud mind compressing. That's followed up with an image of the creature's mind turning into layers of sedimentary rock, each one constructed of the words they describe them: "to chalk, to coal, to marl, to shale". Louise Aleksiejew's piece, other than resembling Michael DeForge a bit, is all about a transformation from losing all her drawings and pictures into seeing a witch who gave her a magic item as a kind of replacement. There's a sense of whimsy, not fear, at work here, which fits with the melting art style. Gary Jackson & David Willet's "The Midnight Marauder Contemplates Retirement" is a naturalist image of a crimefighter having beaten up some criminals, but the action in the piece takes place in the graffiti in the background, reflecting a change of emotional states. It's a clever device that leads the reader across the page expertly.

Alexander Rothman's own "Honey Locust" speaks to the increasing complexity and beauty in his pieces, as his use of colored pencil combined with a strong sense of negative space makes for an eye-catching piece, as he combines the particular scent of the honey locust tree and imagines mastodons ages ago trying to get at its buttery scent. Michel Losier's strip is text-heavy and doesn't let its images breathe, while Aurelien Leif's piece is an excerpt from a longer work that's hard to approach because of the swirling chaos on each page. The experimental piece from Alexey Sokolin and Angel Chen was clever, using sentence mapping to create alternative versions of ideas, all leading into different, separate, images. All told, there was very little filler in this issue. Most of the cartoonists made some powerful statements and the editorial team of Rothman & Tunis kept the issue flowing with a variety of different visual approaches, being careful not to arrange pieces that were too similar to each other too close to each other in the anthology. This was really the first issue I felt like I could hand to someone and say that it was a pretty thorough survey of comics-as-poetry at this moment in time.

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