Monday, October 9, 2017

Minis: A.Meuse

Taking Up Space, by Adam Meuse. Throughout his career, Meuse's comics have been equal parts amusing whimsy and dark undercurrents. This comic contains two stories that wind up being connected in an unexpected manner. The first, "Grey Cube", is an excellent example of Meuse's idiosyncratic sense of humor, as it recalls an art school experiment that determined the volume of his body; that is, how much space it took up by submerging himself in water, taking measurements, and doing the math. It would up being the equivalent of a 74 liter cube, or a cube with 16.5" dimensions. He turned this into a jokey student gallery show presentation by making cubes with those dimensions and labeling them "my volume standing" and a messed-up one "my volume dancing". The cubes sat next to his apartment until the city came to pick them up. This was a cute but rather inconsequential story.

That is, until you read "Black Box", which grimly (but with a touch of bemused humor) notes that eight years after Meuse's cube experiment, "my brother decided to take up a lot less space" by committing suicide. Meuse's pacing and drawing in the first story was methodical, taking the reader through perhaps more detail than was necessary to get the joke. In this second story, the reprise hits the reader in the gut, as we see how his brother methodically sealed the door, safely created a charcoal fire in a bucket in his sealed-off room, took sleeping pills and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. This story is about the three plastic containers that his brother's ashes were placed in, one of which Meuse received. There are no major epiphanies or emotional scenes in this story, yet it's unquestionably a story about grief and mourning. He mixes his brother's ashes into his paints in his art studio shed and paints a portrait of him with those paints. There's a beautiful panel were Meuse muses "I know my brother would have approved" with the image of his brother looking over his shoulder, a very slight smile on his face. The final volume of the painting was 4,600 cubic inches--or 76 liters.

There is a sophisticated layout in this comic for such a relatively simple pair of stories, as both stories essentially mirror each other in terms of placement of splash pages and overall pacing. The question "How much space does a person take up?" is absurd and comical on the face of it, because no one thinks of one's worth in terms of volume; people aren't "precious" in that way in the way a precious metal is. At the same time, in an existential sense, this is exactly the right question to ask. How much space do we take up can mean what impact do we have on the world? What is the mark we leave on it? How will we be remembered. If the first story treats the question like a joke, then the second story treats it quite seriously. Documenting his brother's existence through that painting that contained the literal essence of his brother was clearly a means by which Meuse came to terms with that initial grief. In many respects, this comic that documents that documentation is another way of coping with grief with reverence, with a bit of cheekiness, and love.

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