Thursday, August 17, 2017

Comics-As-Poetry #11: Inkbrick #5

After a strong fourth issue, the fifth issue of Inkbrick was mostly forgettable. Most of the pieces weren't out-and-out bad, but some were too short to make much of an impact. Others were just not visually exciting. The highlight of the issue was a specially colored section featuring work from Jenny Zervakis, one of the earliest practitioners of comics-as-poetry. Her section, introduced by John Porcellino (who just published a big collection of Zervakis' work), stands out for its depictions of stillness and beauty, as well as a reserved but beautiful use of language. "Chuparossa" is an emotional reflection on a bird's song, its resilience and its motivations. It's a poem about intentionality, beauty and being present, with a marvelously subdued use of color. Zervakis was also an early practitioner of dream comics; here, there's a softly-colored one about her mother being a highly proficient gardener. There's also a deliberately ugly, bruise-colored strip that takes place at night and depicts a car accident, with the identity of the victim switching at the last moment. It's a dream about uncomfortable, raw emotions.

The recurring bit that held this issue together was that of a series of strips from Samplerman. He's best known for his collages of golden age comics and is especially interesting not just for juxtaposing images in unusual ways, but in experimenting by using clumps of comics as formal and decorative tools. In one story, the images form fractals. In another strip, the gutters take on character shapes, with the images of the strips turning into negative space. Other strips form loops raining down from above, or rooms full of strange objects. There's a sense of delightful experimentation and joy on each of these pages as Samplerman takes on the rich, lurid nature of the original colors and repurposes it in fascinating ways. Samplerman is able to retain enough of the original imagery to let the reader easily understand its original source material while at the same time divorcing the images from their original contexts. And there's no doubt that what he's doing is still comics; indeed, he relies heavily on the grid in order for the reader to understand the nature of the patterns he's playing with.

Other highlights in the issue include Courtney Loberg's mysterious, evocative strip about "sistering" (the use of water magic to recall specific visions) and a bizarre event seen while driving down a road. Her smudged, light sepia tones add an extra air of mystery to the proceedings, especially with her thin line weights with regard to her characters. Kurt Ankeny also uses a thin line weight effectively, albeit his method involved colored pencils. His story is about older people contemplating heights and also their inevitable ends. The way Ankeny juxtaposed the lines of the people's faces with the lines forming fields and buildings below was especially clever, as was a comparison of blades of grass to swords. Winnie T. Frick's red-and-lime "interview" with someone's double touched on all sorts of interesting ideas, including the concept of being a container for ideas for another person as well as the idea of shifting selves and identities. There's a sense of identity fracture here, with some hints that part of it is due to capitalism, and it was interesting to see this explored by way of a direct interview with her but not the "original". Publisher Alexander Rothman continues to impress, as his imagery of spring in the woods and the text regarding closeness and later othering play against each other in interesting ways.

Paul Tunis has made some interesting choices as editor, but his recent contributions have left me cold. The images are little more than decorative and don't have much impact on their own. The paint-spattering and photography of Alexey Sokolin and the textile/text experiment of Deshan Tennekoon & Thilini Perera just left me cold. They're too slick for the eye to grab onto, and that goes double for the actual plastic qualities of the text itself. Most of the rest of the issue either didn't combine text and image in interesting ways, or they were so fleeting that they simply didn't have much impact. This issue speaks to how difficult it can be to put together strong issues on a consistent basis without repeating too many of the same contributors.

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