Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's small press review column
Anyone who's consumed much media over the last decade or so has run into more than their share of post-apocalypse tales, generally involving desperate men and women scavenging for food amidst zombie invasions or nuclear meltdowns. The vast majority of time, the end of the world is used to set up extremely intense drama, in which the action and inhumanity never end.
Farm School by Jason Turner goes a different direction with the idea of a post-apocalyptic world. The end of the world is depicted via small allusions in text – "I lost my Henry in the bad times. Raiders", "It took me years to come back home. My family was gone by then." – and by lovely small references in the artwork – old traffic lights wrapped around trees, smashed husks of buildings next to other structures that are undamaged.
In other words, Jason Turner shows readers what happened to civilization without ever telling them what happened. We're free to fill in the background if we want, but the real dramas are happening on the page, as we follow this simple journey from farm to town and learn about the world after everything has changed.
There are still bureaucrats and restaurants, a wonderful library that feels like the last outpost of human knowledge, and the appearance of a town that's still busy and active and full of life. Maybe most importantly, there are people throughout this book who are simply living their lives without regard for what happened before. The kids in this comic are still kids. Young kids play macabre games around the death of civilization but they're no worse than "Ring Around the Rosey." Teenagers still act like teenagers, impulsive and moody and sometimes obnoxious. And adults, as usual, just try to get by and live their lives as best they can.
It's not that the fall of civilization hasn't affected anyone. It's that people will always be people and even if the world as we know it is over, life still has to be lived.
Turner does a wonderful job with the art in his comic. He's very good at using thick and thin lines to convey distance and separate characters from backgrounds. He also does a terrific job of making the small touches of the end of the world seem normal, like they’re just part of the landscape that we're surveying. The scenes in the town are especially vivid and well-drawn, with the husks of the dead buildings boxing characters in and reaffirming the state of civilization.
This digest-sized comic was a really cool surprise and an intriguingly different look at the end of the world. If the world comes to an end someday, I hope the world afterwards is as civilized as the one shown in Farm School.
– Jason Sacks
Order Farm School from Retrofit's StoreEnvy.
When I say the name James Kochalka, many of you may think of his books American Elf or SuperFuckers or even his essay on the importance of simplicity in comics, “Craft is the Enemy” – but I want to tell you about a little book he published in September of 2000 through Alternative Comics: Sunburn.
Sunburn is a different type of Kochalka comic. Described by Alternative Comics as a “Casual philosophy-adventure that delights the eye,” this 28 page black and white rumination on the purpose of existence, examination of the mind/body duality, and dissertation on the expansiveness of static living feels meaningful, personal, and true.
In Sunburn, Kochalka fills his four panel pages with aspect to aspect and non-sequitur transitions, punctuated by highly detailed and intricate splash pages of every-day objects, to create a rhythm and flow to what otherwise would be a narrative told in expositional text boxes. Through his realistic drawing and perspective choices, Kochalka takes his thick and dark thoughts and infuses them with a light sensibility, allowing his eventual pay-off to flow naturally from its murky source.
And there are some dark places in Kochalka's mind in this book. The phone rings. It is a wrong number. This mundane moment launches him to write: “Five billion people across the planet desperately sucking in air and blowing it out through their voice boxes which gurgle and vibrate in a feeble attempt to communicate.” Isolation, purposelessness, and death echo through page after page in this tale.
But Kochalka uses his existential constestation as a means to an end here. There is a moment towards the conclusion of this book where he breaks out of his narrative and, in one panel, his narrator stares doggedly out from the page and addresses the reader him or herself. This quick beat, funny and precise, marks a turn in tone from gloom to acceptance. It is a moment that exemplifies the inherent manipulative nature of timing in the works of a great cartoonist – one who is attuned to the beats of story-telling and the precision of his or her craft.
It works and transforms this book from a puerile navel-gazer to a work of art. The philosophy behind Kochalka's turn is, at heart, basic and easy – a bit banal, a bit of a platitude – but within the intersection of words and pictures it becomes more ardent, personal, and gains gravitas.
Sunburn functions to cleanse both its creator and its audience. Together we have to roll in the dust of the cosmic expanse in order to understand the purity of the mundane moment. It's a simple reminder of what is so easily forgotten as we bury ourselves with our own lives.
And right now, it's available from Alternative Comics for only one dollar.
– Daniel Elkin
Jason Sacks worries too much, so he needs to remind himself that the end of the world doesn't necessarily mean the end of the world. He's the publisher of Comics Bulletin. Follow him @jasonsacks