Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comic Bulletin’s Small Press Review Column.
EVERY LIFE I EVER LIVED
By Robin William Scott
Published by Good Comics
There is enormity in the smallest moment; the poetry of the mundane is sadly often overlooked. The day-to-day that comprises a life undulates with a spectacular rhythm which, when attended, choreographs the dance that defines every truth ever uttered.
It takes the brave artist to hear these sounds and communicate the meter of the minute. Comics seem to be an apt medium for this sort of expression; one that best allows that artist to impart what they find. When placed in the constraint of a four-panel page, a routine day of seemingly prosaic and empty events can transcend the circumscription of form and expand into the empyrean. To do so using just the simple tools of paper and a ballpoint pen is brilliance. It is the stuff of the art of Robin William Scott.
Every Life I Ever Lived is essentially a collection of diary comics. It is comprised of 100 (mostly) four panel strips capturing Scott’s daily routine, one day at a time. Herein, Scott details the meals he ate, the beers he drank, and the television he watched. He captures his time at work, his concerns about learning to drive, and his problems with sleep. In the pages of Every Life I Ever Lived there is no pretension, no didacticism, no polemic against modernity, and no exhortation to the “better person.” Rather, there is a laser focus on the platitudinous and bromidic, the marking of time and the distractions sought — the tiny moments of life.
In seeing his “Self” in his days he sees his “Self” as it is, wobbly at times, unsure and detached — he reaches out and reaches in, and in this, becomes the everyman, and in this, becomes heroic.
We all, at some point, question who we are and why we do the things we do. It is our nature. Not one of us, though, if we are really honest about it, has really found an answer to these questions that will fully suffice and reassure. A temporary stay from such thoughts is the best we can hope for, and that comes only either through capitulation or compromise. To continue to ask these questions unmoors us and leads us only towards depression and crisis.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time…”
Yet, like Macbeth, Scott is somehow able to not succumb to the despair in the end; he’s somehow able to throw a “warlike shield” before his body in his own way. He answers his questions neither by making sacrifices nor giving up; rather, he turns to his talent, he turns to his art, he creates meaning through the sheer process of meticulously documenting the moments, discerning the defining beats of the day and capturing them on a piece of white paper with the marks left from a black ballpoint pen.
There is labor in the panels of Robin William Scott comics that reveals itself through an exactitude of line. His cartooning bespeaks scrupulousness and meticulousness, and yet the tools he uses are, at best, basic and imprecise. The tension created by this vibrates in a way that makes his art so distinct and gives it its unique voice. It’s like the ever-exacting Glenn Gould humming through his recording of the Goldberg Variations.
Alex Paknadel says in his Foreword to Every Life I’ve Ever Lived that Scott “uses a ballpoint pen in part because he like the crispness of the lines it scores into cheap paper, but also I suspect because he insists on an innate impermanence in the very materials he uses…”
Yes, moments of understanding are often fleeting in the face of a constant barrage of stimuli. Just as Scott finishes one set of drawings, another day begins, and with it, a new set of challenges to circumvent, to internalize, to discern. He picks up his ballpoint at the end of the day and through the magic of his talent, he captures his “Self” once more, like a migrating bird returning home once again.
Interestingly enough, Every Life I’ve Ever Lived is full of bird imagery, as if he sees a connection to them in some manner, as if their interactions with each other and with himself serve as fence lines that corral his apprehensions of who he is. Scott returns again and again to images of birds in the pages and panels of this book. Crows play an especially important role in this book, and Scott understands their presence in his days much like the Norse did. Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn represented the two sides of comprehension, “thought” and “memory”. Scott acknowledges this in his book, punctuating what he is trying to do, rendering each of the birds with a level of detail that makes them, almost, totemic, as if by perfectly capturing the very “bird-ness” of this bird, he is saying a prayer to his own capacity to understand himself.
These moments, like so many others in Every Life I’ve Ever Lived, capture the undulations of life, the profundity of the minute, the truth of our hours. It is the thing that makes the moments of our lives universal. It is the thing that makes us human.
To find out more about Robin William Scott, as well as be party to his process and his comics, I highly suggest you follow him on Twitter at @robinwscott. And, by all means, go purchase a copy of Every Life I’ve Ever Lived.