Thursday, August 3, 2017

Comics-As-Poetry #9: Inkbrick #3

Alexander Rothman, Paul Tunis and the rest of the Inkbrick gang have been quite busy since I reviewed the first two issues a while back. They've taken on an incredibly difficult task: publishing a journal of comics-as-poetry on a semi-regular basis. Given that it's still a fledgling sub-art form of an art form that itself is still in relative infancy (or perhaps young adulthood by now), finding good candidates can't be easy. There's also the problem of defining just what comics-as-poetry is. Some might include what I would simply call "poetry comics": poems with some illustrations. Such work lacks the interdependence of word and image that poetry comics has, even if making such a distinction is of the "you know it when you see it" kind.

Still, there's no question that even when some issues are a little thin on the best of comics-as-poetry, it's unquestionably true that they still publish the best of the best as well. Anna Grzton's "Gert" is a good example of a great find. In relating this story of his father and an imaginary friend, creating an immersive environment that takes the metaphor of tears cried by peonies falling like diamonds. Rothman continues to grow more daring in his experiments, sticking to concrete imagery (like a bird and a walnut as actors in a play) but more abstract ideas. His images are becoming more abstracted while still retaining some literal roots by using techniques like negative space to create foreground figures and a dense use of colored pencils.

Sabin Cauldron's "Water Damage" was an interesting piece that considers the micro and macro ramifications of a humble kitchen sponge. There's a micro level of the internal structure of the sponge and of bubbles, and the macro level of a hand about to disturb this equilibrium of moisture and dryness. The orange used in the comic adds an alien feeling to the whole thing, down to the shadowy, spidery black fingers reaching for the sponge at the end. Wynn's "Unanswered" uses negative space to talk about identity in the form of one's self-image. In some ways, it seems to be a reference to proprioception, the sense that we know where our body is even when we don't see it. When that sense goes awry, we literally can't feel ourselves. Expanding that idea to identity itself (as opposed to one's position in space) is a clever idea, perfectly suited to comics to quickly explain.

Paul Tunis' matches images to text in a way that doesn't quite jibe. It's not random, but there's a false solidity in the way in which the naturalistic images and the short narrative bursts of text don't contrast in ways that seem very meaningful or interesting. Similarly, the rhyming structure of Laurence & Myra Musgrove's is a big distraction with regard to the simple image of a crow singing about its world. A lot of the artists take a big chance with the visual structure of their pieces, and not all of them are successful. John G. Swogger's "The Shrine" successfully redacts aspects of archaeological drawings to compose a beautiful poem about an abandoned space from all four cardinal directions. On the other hand, Alexey Sokolin's "Panopticon" uses 3D art effects that veer, paradoxically into total abstraction and the uncanny valley effect. It's distracting more than disorienting, and the font used for the lettering doesn't aid the reader in grasping the work.

Other notable contributions include Anthony Cudahy's mixed-media entry "No Eyes", which features drawings and photos of statues from antiquity and obsesses over the way they stare, even when they've been torn out. Catherine Bresner's excerpt from "January 2nd" is also a mixed-media piece reminiscent of Julie Doucet's recent collage work mixed with text. She also took images that look like they came from 1950s and 60s lifestyle magazines and inserted images of dominance, violence and in general elements related to patriarchal oppression. Maelle Doliveux and Alyssa Berg both rely on a sharp use of color and the passage of time in their pieces. Doliveux's is a clever one about a woman with a blossom for a head that slowly wilts over time when her lover leaves and doesn't come back. Berg's strip is rougher, using color to create the crest and fall of an ocean wave and comparing it to the rise and fall of a (presumed) lover's chest. The use of color crosses panel borders as we see two images simultaneously, just as she does.

The two long narratives in the book come from Glynnis Fawkes and the team of Marguerite Van Cook & James Romberger. The former story is a funny one that focuses on Fawkes' established fascination with Greek mythology, as she tells the tale of how she met her future husband as though she were a wild nymph and he was a charming faun, trying to lure her away from her busy life. There's a lushness to her brushwork and use of color that matches the heat of the sexual tension depicted in the book, but there's also that lasting sting of no longer being able to frolic in quite the same way as she did before she and her husband had their sun. Fawkes also expertly depicts that push-pull feeling of loving someone but desperately wanting to retain independence, until the attraction and affection wins out. Van Cook & Romberger's "Perfectly Manicured (To the Bone)" sees Romberger doing a take on the illustration style of Hal Foster's Prince Valiant strip, down to the flourishes selected for lettering. It tells the tale of the garden of dead children, the remnants of war, and horror and exploitation, waiting to bloom again in the wake of disaster. The question is, bloom for good or ill, as a young girl walking through the garden takes one of the "flowers" with her, against the advice of the gardener. It's a fold-out that doubles as a dust cover, and it's a spectacular, beautiful work. It's one of many chances the editor-publishers were willing to take, and it was a success.

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