Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin's small press review column
Out of Hollow Water
I was lucky enough to sample one of Anna Bongiovanni’s mini-comics titled The Offering, which was quite good, but this is the first full-length OGN I’ve tried, published by the good folks at 2D Cloud. Out of Hollow Water is an exercise in art attempting to capture the essence of violent penetrative acts, and isolating those devastating emotions for print. Traumatic physical events often leave lasting emotional scars on the psyche, things that can only be felt and not seen. Bongiovanni proves undoubtedly that what would otherwise be presented as flat 2D images can reverberate with the authenticity that actually makes us feel sweaty tousled hair, or hear the wailing cries of a baby echoing in the woods. Her sketchy lines just flicker and dance on the page, bringing to life apocryphal shadow creatures and lone human figures trying to navigate a spiritual wasteland. Like the work of the great Julia Gfrorer, Anna Bongiovanni relies on very little dialogue and seems to be concerned with the juxtaposition of how the man-made intertwines with the forces of the natural world. This book is an unflinching and unapologetic take on some difficult subject matter, composing a frank discussion of shame, abandonment, things unwanted, and the societal pressures created by a closed system. Whether she’s working in full page layouts or 9-panel grids, there’s a sense of fluidity that hums right along and never pushes you out. I’m a fan of the Latain phrase “Ars Est Celare Artem,” or “The Art Is To Hide The Art,” meaning that the audience should never be overtly aware of craft. Anna Bongiovanni does just that, ensconces us in such a compelling mixture of words and distinct aesthetics, that it becomes an enveloping sensory experience. You forget you’re reading a comic, and are momentarily living inside a wounded heart.
– Justin Giampaoli
Order Out of the Hollow Water at the 2D Cloud website.
The first page of Saman Bemel-Benrud's Abyss could serve as the thesis to a dissertation on the effects of pervasive technology on the social order. Two black outlined characters seemingly float in stark relief against a white background, their backs to us, rendered flat in a sketched two-dimensional space. One character reaches out his left hand as if to hold the hand of the other, a claiming gesture meant to show their bond together as a couple. The other character floats next to him, her arms crossed, remaining immune to this connection. Almost every line on this page is vertical, emphasizing the rigidity of the boundaries between them, the gulf between personalities, even as there is the implied longing to connect.
Only connect! That is the whole of Bemel-Benrud's sermon.
What begins as a journey to a “go-to burrito spot” evolves into an exploration of how the ubiquitous social platforms we carry are as isolating as they are enjoining. It's a hollow form of connection, leaving us ghosts of interactivity whose souls are the victims of app gentrification
“Everything good is disappearing, replaced with empty pits. Like black magic, they absorb the life energy from a place then use it to summon open floor plans and gourmet kitchens.”
It's easy to cast Abyss aside as another Luddite-longing for a simpler time or a haunting dirge for a pre-digital world. And yet, this is not a book wrapped in these sodden laments. As we fall into a world engendered by the social aspects of our devices enmeshing ourselves into a new code of behavior when reaching out to others by tapping on the glass, we acknowledge our separateness while formulating a new collective.
Together we bind our ghosts to the ghosts of others. We disassemble into a new means of understanding each other, something new, and, in a way, more fundamental. We create a shared experience in a new language on a different platform.
In this book, one of the main characters falls into a digital abyss. There, she meets a digital ghost who says to her.“On your side, matter trapped in space. On mine, information frozen in code. Linked in a cycle of co-creation. But separated by an impenetrable boundary.”
Although the ghost is trapped, “geofenced,” and cannot leave the abyss, through this new type of connection between these characters, this co-creation of reality, Bemel-Benrud suggests that there can be forged a new perception of the world around us and the people within it. To bastardize Walt Whitman, every line of code belonging to me as good belongs to you.
It is after the meeting with the ghost that the character whose arms were crossed on that first page begins to reach out and touch things. She puts her hands out, and what she caresses is transformed. Bemel-Benrud uses a pale blue-green shade to indicate the digital dimension throughout Abyss. As the book ends, this color begins to become part of the non-digital “reality” of direct experience. The final page has this character doing the same gesture proffered to her on the first. Now she is facing us, though looking askance. She reaches for the ghost and is subsumed by the blue.
As a reader, I was left with a quiet hope. If the mark of the success of a species is unfettered expansion, then humans are winning. And yet, even as our numbers grow, many have the sense that we are becoming more isolated from each other than ever before. But such terms as “isolation” are embedded in the past and the conception of “community” is mired in previous expectations. We are transitioning, evolving, and we open new portals of connection every day. Comics like Abyss provide observational commentary on a process whose end is beyond our current ken.
It's important to note these sort of wayside markers as we journey, for they often provide a perspective, an access to understanding, as we sojourn our way into uncharted territory.
While originally released as a web comic, Abyss has recently been printed up for your traditional comic book experience by the fine folks at 2D Cloud.
– Daniel Elkin
Buy Abyss on the 2D Cloud website.
Gone Girl Comics
Noel Franklin’s self-published effort is firmly centered on Seattle, bouncing between historical primers on hip haunts in the city and personal recollections of times past. Whether she’s chronicling personal karma or lost sightings of Seattle billionaires, her meticulously detailed pencils reproduce with the hazy quality of memories. For anyone who knows the history of Seattle, and how it was interestingly built on the low-tide underground of the Pioneer Square area, one which nature has tried to reclaim over the years, this contentious battle between man and dank conditions are somehow captured in her fuzzy vibe. The Ok Hotel is spotlighted as an infamous venue for music, spoken word, and impromptu performance art, even housing some occasional Fantagraphics events, and any story which mentions the band Mudhoney is ok by me! Franklin touches on the (roughly) decade between 1991 and 2001 where Seattle went from being a hotbed of creativity to a less vibrant reflection of itself post-riots and post-earthquake. While I enjoyed the history, “Seeing Stars” was probably my favorite entry because of the swirling art style that mimics the elusive nature of emotions and memories. Figures sort of come and go under this style from Franklin, nascent images forming and dissipating out of inky swirls, wisps of dreams, psychedelic episodes, and the effects of time on the memory of people we once had relationships with.
– Justin Giampaoli
Order Gone Girl Comics from Noel Franklin.
The interior print quality is a little rough with thin inks on rare occasion, but the quietly alluring cover and future dystopia contained in The Dormitory is terrific. Conor Stechschulte has efficiently built a world where mass rotational breastfeeding and socially engineered sexual mingling are done in large industrial factories in an effort to control the populace. With some kind of four-color dot texturization screen-printing technique, the garish color palette nicely brings out the individualized emotions, in a paradigm where everything else is controlled by the “rithm,” what we assume is a sentient algorithm. The printing process on display and things like the light-sourcing-on-paper in The Dormitory is pure tactile objet d’art and is yet another example of why I’m largely anti-digital comics. This is a book that can only exist in its small 175-copy print run and would lose much of its charm outside the scope of a print venue. You have to hold it in your hands. Period. We follow two new girls being indoctrinated, and through their voyeuristic tendencies we get to see the inner workings of the adult dorm after hours, where sexuality seems to the last vestigial taboo, one passionate secret that Big Brother can’t direct completely. There’s a rustic brilliance to Conor Stechschulte’s work, like an early rudimentary Dash Shaw, and I hope he continues fleshing out this interesting post-industrial world, because I’d eagerly read about it.
– Justin Giampaoli
Order The Dormitory from Conor Stechschulte