Sunday, December 27, 2020

31 Days Of CCS, #27: Bread Tarleton

Bread Tarleton's ambitious Losing Comics is a fascinating metacommentary on storytelling in the manner of Pirandello meets Scott McCloud. Indeed, the title and the cover logo were direct references to McCloud's book on comics art, Understanding Comics. However, the simple, iconic character is dropped into the middle of a story and is alerted of this fact by the unseen narrator, who is said to represent the artist. It's left up to the nameless character to find their purpose, all while Tarleton explores the elastic nature of comics storytelling. 

The book has the cadence of certain manga in terms of its willingness to slow storytelling down to a crawl and force the reader to advance the action slowly, turning page after page in order to move things along. The existential quality of the comic also reminds me a bit of Anders Nilsen's "Monologues" comic, only this book doesn't have the jokey quality of Nilsen's work. Indeed, there is an impassioned sincerity to the struggle of the protagonist, as they go from confusion at their predicament and the narrator's purpose for them to anger at their fate to despair to determination. All they could do was keep going, trying to understand themselves while desperately wishing for connection. 

Losing Comics is a perfect example of cartooning and drawing being related but separate skills. The drawing in this book is simple and non-naturalistic. The cartooning, however, is complex and deeply affecting. Beyond Tarleton's command of gesture, there's a sequence where the character desperately wants the reader to tell them what they should look like, tortuously altering their face again and again. It's heart-breaking and dramatic, and it's a testament to Tarleton's skill as a cartoonist that each image is as powerful as the next. It's followed by an expression of gratitude toward the reader for bringing them to life by reading the book and accompanying them on their journey, even if it's a journey that they ultimately completed through their own willpower. It's a testament to the power of seeking out connection and understanding that we are always connected to others, even if it's not immediately obvious. 

The character's journey is the journey of anyone who struggles to understand their purpose in life, who feels everything is absurd and meaningless, and doesn't even know who they really are. In the end, the struggle, the journey, and the company provide enough meaning, a sentiment earned not through treacly sentimentality but through a viscerally difficult trek for the character and the reader. Losing Comics is a powerful conceptual achievement that may not seem beautiful on its surface, but it's more than worth exploring to get to its underlying truths.

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