Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s small press review column.
By Andrew Burkholder
Published by 2dCloud
Sometimes works of art put you in the uncomfortable position of having to confront the fact that some of your perceptions of the world are not as solid as you thought they were. This is especially unnerving when fundamental, foundational concepts — one’s that you base conceptions of reality upon — become soft in the face of a new understanding. You enter the experience with this work erect in your conceit, and leave it fluid, awash in the world, uncertain of your next step.
Such is the result of the confrontation with Andrew Burkolder’s new release from 2dCloud, ITDN, quite possibly one of the most profound aesthetic experiences I’ve had in the medium in a long time.
In the limitations of a short review like this, there’s no space to talk about the ITDN Group and the history behind this book — and that would distract anyway, unimportant to the greater sense of things here.
ITDN needs no context to be consumed. It is, essentially and importantly, all-encompassing and wading into it naked, unencumbered by expectation, is probably the best way to be exposed to it, in it, and through it.
There’s little to no narrative in any of the 10 comics that comprise ITDN. Burkholder uses the medium of his comics to explore ideas, raising question after question in the expedition while providing no answers. Understanding is not the point; pursuit is the only goal. Each comic is presented using its own style, form following function as a psychotropic experiment. From the tight conventions of tradition in “The Fury” to the insouciant scribbling of “FUCK THIS” to the thin-line panel transition study of “Street”, Burkholder shows a depth of understanding for the tone of ideas. Each enterprise is an agreement between thought and expression. Each takes its time to shake the reader from the stupor of preconception.
It is with “Changes” and “CHRIS” that Burkholder entirely pushes out whatever borders there are around the definitions and notions of comics. “Changes” in particular is a meditative act of perception in and of itself. Page after page of swirled lines and abstractions that lead from one to another force the reader to, in their struggle to make meaning, interrogate the very process they are undertaking. Rational thought of cause and effect, movement and time, are challenged with each permutation of Burkholder’s lines. The perception/expectation/understanding game inherent in comics, that vague notion of “closure”, dictates a certain response to the seeming randomness of Burkholder’s intent. Through his manipulations of both line and audience, the artist, here, turns the audience back upon itself. There is no parsing of “Changes” that doesn’t force an evolution of the very act itself.
ITDN pulls you in and breaks you apart. You are the only intended audience because no one else will experience it as you will. And in this isolation of the personal, empyrean.
Andrew Burkholder’s ITDN is confrontational. It is also, quite possibly, one of the best books to be published in 2016.
A CITY INSIDE
By Tillie Walden
Published by Avery Hill Publishing
Tillie Walden is a prodigious and stunning artist. Her books have consistently been tender, wistful, complex, and stunning. Her latest release from Avery Hill Publishing is A City Inside and it is everything you would expect from a Tillie Walden comic.
The solicitation for this book reads: “Shifting between the everyday and the surreal, A City Inside recounts one woman’s life from childhood home, to the first love that she will never forget, to the creation of the idea of herself that she can grow old with and the home that she can grow old in… [It’s] a poetic exploration of the process of growing older; the journey towards finding out who you are and building a life for yourself. It is a universal story of how we don’t just come-of-age once, but many times throughout our lives.”
Other than the incredible craftsmanship in both her art and its execution, the dream-like quality of Walden’s work is what separates it from so many others working today. This is a story about transitioning and passages, what we gather and what we leave behind, as well as an exploration of expectation and uncertainty and the need to define the self.
Walden’s way into and out of this story is fascinating. There is a bookending in the present which adds a chronologic conundrum to what is at its core. This construction places the narrative into the world of wishes and reflection and consideration, transporting the story structure out of the realm of the causal nexus and into the ethereal. The reader is unsure if what is happening is or has happened, and the jacket of cognizance therein is thin and billows easily in the wind.
In the end, A City Inside is a book of hope, but one that does not mollify the complexities of life — its isolation and its din, the damage of the past and the uncertainty of the future. There is empathy and kindness in depiction which is a signifier of understanding, as if Walden is as much an open heart as she is a powerful artist. All of the heavy intricacies of her lines in this book and the thick blackness that subsumes so much of the environments of her pages all point to a simple understanding and a lightness of communication. It is as if what Tillie Walden exhales is there to allow the rest of us to breathe.
By Theo Ellsworth
There is a unique personal appeal, a direct address, an open-hand come-with-me perspective to the work of Theo Ellsworth that is as much a manifestation of his work as is the unique intricacies of his art. Ellsworth places you, the reader, directly into the action and demands your participation in his wild rides. It is as if your role is essential to the outcome of the story; he needs your help to complete the missions of transmutation and liberation that are so often at the heart of his art.
Recently debuting at Linework NW, Other Selves is a 64 page black and white self-published mini. As its title suggests, Other Selves is about the struggles we face to maintain all the particular versions of ourselves that we present to the world in the various capacities and situations in which we constantly find ourselves. Who we are here is not who we are there or over there for that matter, either. Child is different than parent is different from lover is different from your job.
Which begs the question, of course, who are you right now?
Also, who do you want to be?
And finally, isn’t the creation of the self the most powerful artistic statement an individual can make?
Ellsworth calls this book a “psychic chiropractic adjustment” (to be filed under: “Hand Drawn Inner-Space Documentary Comics”). Here he is an artist viewing himself as the one who is in control of creating the Other Selves of his imagination. As he probes deeper and deeper into his self-creations, though, things get weirder and weirder, layering levels of the fantastic and the imaginative, each self in control of itself. Finally his inner workings are so far out that a part of him unleashes the “Reality Control Officers” into his “Personal Imaging Zone” admonishing him to “Go back to reality! Now!” What remains is a battle between inspiration and sense, art versus logic.
As this is a Theo Ellsworth book, you can imagine how this ends.
There is so much joy inherent in Ellsworth’s books — each one a celebration of the outer rim of imagination and the creative act. His consistent use of direct address in his narratives only makes the experience a shared one. It’s virtually impossible to finish an Ellsworth comic without there being a smile on your face.
Though Ellsworth creates some pretty strange places in his work, rest assured it’s a safe space. You’re allowed to be you.
Whichever self you want to be.
Theo Ellsworth’s website