Tiny Pages Made of Ashes 9/16/2013: Autobiography and Elves (but not autobiographical elves)

A comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Jason Sacks

Tiny Pages

Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's small press review column

Autobiographical Conversations

(Ryan Claytor)

4 stars

A few months back I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryan Claytor about his Indiegogo project, Autobiographical Conversations, and I had the temerity to ask him, “What the heck is autobiographical theory anyway, and how does it relate to the medium of comics?” He answered, “Basically we’re exploring questions like, how and why does the artist portray themselves in a particular manner in autobiographical comics, why don’t more theoreticians present their work in comics form, and does autobiography need to be truthful?” He went on to tell me that the whole comic is basically a record of a series of conversations he had with Dr. Harry Polkinhorn, a professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University.

When I heard all this my first thought was, “Wow, that sounds utterly fascinating.” My second thought, though, was, “Hmmmmm, how the hell is this going to transfer to an engaging comic without being overly pedantic and plodding?”

The answer to my second thought is this book –  this delightful, engaging, thoughtful, quiet little book.

Autobiographical Conversations

Autobiographical Conversations, while a “read” due to the heft of its subject matter and the back and forth conversational nature of its dialogue, is also a “view” as Claytor's cartooning style and choices add a level of humanness and mundanity to this otherwise cerebral exploration. Some of my favorite moments in this book are the quiet ones, like when Claytor and Polkinhorn are discussing ideas of how being emotionally honest can co-exist with being objectively dishonest in autobiography, while at the same time they are getting their lunch, choosing sodas out of a full refrigerator case, and paying at the register without breaking stride.

Autobiographical Conversations

Claytor goes to great lengths to keep things casual and breezy, reminding the reader of familiar everyday moments as he and Polkinhorn discuss a wide range of topics around the nature of autobiography. By grounding this high level discussion focused on esoteric ideas, Claytor keeps his narrative grounded as well and accessibly readable. There is never a moment in Autobiographical Conversations where you feel talked down to or underwater in a thick didactic sea.

There is an authenticity to Autobiographical Conversations which Claytor intently set out to capture and which is completely apt given the nature of the book itself. This authenticity never gets in the way of the book as a comic, though. The flow from panel to panel is as natural as the flow of a conversation. While Claytor attempts to capture the nuances of voice and place as exactly as he can, he admits that this obsession can, at times, lend a layer of plasticity to the proceedings. Claytor is an artist who understands when to back away from an idea if it interferes with the work as a whole. This book shows it.

Autobiographical Conversations

Autobiographical Conversations is a study of the nature of autobiography. Moreover it is a study in the nature of perception and the nature of truth. Sometimes we have to make choices about these issues in order to communicate what we want to say, more so than tell what actually happened. Claytor makes excellent choices in construction and in telling and, because of this, we become part of the conversation. 

- Daniel Elkin

Autobiographical Conversations is available on the Elephant Eater Comics Website.

The Secret Origin of the Dust Elves

(Gordon Harris)

When you were a kid, did you ever have daydreams that strange creatures lived in your house, watching everything that you do? Did you ever imagine that there were elves that lived under your bed or the refrigerator or your stairs and would only ever come out at night when you were asleep?

This is, of course, the conceit of the Toy Story movies and also it's the conceit of Gordon Harris's new self-published mini-comic series The Secret Origin of the Dust Elves.

The Secret Origin of the Dust Elves

Harris, who created the decidedly different post-apocalypse comic Pedestrian is back with a decidedly different story about the creatures that live in the houses of dreamers. Dust Elves is a surprisingly multifaceted story – an almost silent and cleverly told comic story that shows the elves that haunt a pair of young sisters, combined with a longer text story that involves philosophy, computers and legends, combined with a flashback to the time before elves lived in strange girls' houses. 

It's all wonderfully written and drawn, with the same sort of dreamlike logic that Harris brought to Pedestrian while also hewing a bit to classic fantasy tropes. This is a surprisingly ambitious comic for a mini-comic sized presentation. Readers are conditioned to expect stuff like prosaic autobiography or surreal galleries in mini form, not this level of motivation – and certainly not this level of storytelling quality. I can't help but feel that Harris is selling his desires short by creating it on such a small size, but part of the joy of working in small press is that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want.

The Secret Origin of the Dust Elves doesn't appear to be very ambitious on the outside, but it's a nicely complex and entertaining package.

- Jason Sacks

The Secret Origin of the Dust Elves can be ordered on Gordon Harris's website.

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