Saturday, July 30, 2022

Adam Meuse's Not The Ocean

Adam Meuse is one of those cartoonists whose body of work has become so solid and self-assured that it's surprising that he's still self-publishing. He's one of the best cartoonists living in North Carolina, and that's for certain. His most recent effort, not the ocean, is another example of his thoughtful meditations on mortality that also touches on the joy of living. The visual touchstone in play is the ocean. How the traffic near his house sounds like the ocean coming through the trees. How sometimes being presented with astonishing natural beauty feels fake because of our attempts to replicate it through media. 

Along the way, Meuse connects these experiences with friends and families, about how we mediate our experiences with the natural world with our own interpretations of these awesome phenomena. For example, there's a beautifully scratchy and scrawled comic about listening to a recording of the ocean while looking at it with his daughter. That comic is about the way our brain fills in holes in our perceptions, and listening to the recording is jarring because it doesn't quite sync up. 

Another strip talks about the abstract-looking paintings that Mondrian did of piers sticking out into ocean, like a forest of little trees or crosses. Seeing that repeated in a hotel carpet was a look of recognition that was an interpretation of an interpretation. Piers all the way down. 

The ocean also reminded him of a friend who used to work in the marine section of a museum, and then learning years later he had drowned, on a boat he had fixed up. Once again, the sea called; capricious, beautiful, destructive, but it also drew his friend closer to Meuse in that moment. The sea is life: the salt flats of Utah with the remains of an ocean; sea gulls surrounding a light house at night; a huge gull outside a hotel room from a night of no sleep with friends. Meuse ponders not only the awe that the ocean inspires but also the ways in which it continues to affect the way we think about the world away from it. It's the closest thing we have to going into outer space on Earth: an awesome, dangerous mystery that engages and soothes. It offers no answers, and neither does Meuse. He's just a witness who does his best in this series of beautifully-scribbled comics and drawings to express the feeling the ocean has given him, rather than the ocean itself. 

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