Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s Small Press Review Column
By Sarah Ferrick
Published by 2d Cloud
Sec is the result of a pent up or repressed libido unleashed. It is a panting, thrusting, desperate work of comics poetry that seeks to make the reader its object of desire. Where this leads the reader to is an uncomfortable, and often invasive experience. Creator Sarah Ferrick’s paint colors—black, brown, and red—ramble, at first in an almost orderly fashion as she segments them into even boxes. But then the red takes over, exploding outward into violence across the pages.
Ferrick’s poetic lines hitch and groan, interrupting the speaker’s passion (“I want to fuck you!” screams one page in a curly, nearly unreadable red) with their anxiety and frustration as they fail and fail and fail again to find completion. “One sec, one sec, one sec” evolves into the speed and tempo of a bedsheet mantra. The sickening desperation of the speaker only ceases as the comic becomes wordless, giving into the blossoming of bright red, vulva-like flowers with brown pubic hair drawn on the higher points of their stems. Orgasm has no words and neither does its post-coital peace, which is represented on the last page via a flower of purple and yellow, two colors previously unused.
Much of what makes Sec an experience requires the reader to bring their own impressions to the book. At times, the speaker seems to disregard the reader’s humanity, “Would you help me warm up
& Make me live again?
You don’t have to do anything,
Nothing has to happen,
You just need to exist…”
In addition, the unexpectedness of the book’s content inevitably leads to feelings that the reader did not seek for themselves. Some of Sec’s lines are arousing. Many of them are disturbing. The reader arguably consents to the sexual attentions of the speaker by continuing to read the book, but the violent reds and snaking browns make the pages an assault on the senses.
Yet Sec could also represent an exercise in empathy. Are you a kind enough person to lie there for someone who needs your weight, your warmth to fill the emptiness inside of them? How much emotional responsibility do you feel for a random individual with whom you just entangled bodies? The speaker of Sec is horny to the point of repulsiveness, but they connect to the ache we all have felt sometime during our lives. The ache of loneliness. The ache of no one acknowledging your being. The ache of questioning that if no one cares, do you really exist?
— Ray Sonne (@RaySonne)
By maré odomo
Published by Retrofit/Big Planet
Late Bloomer is poetry comics insomuch as were you to separate the art from the words you would be left with something less. In it, language and pictures combine to create something whole, resonating deeply with its own emotional aspect.
A seeming collection of disparate moments bound together as a representation of an artist’s range, this small book is best read as one extended piece, each pause representing a breath, a moment of reflection, before odomo continues what they are pursuing as an artist here.
Ultimately framed as a journey, Late Bloomer examines that which is without, within, as odomo works through what it means to be an individual in world among others: how we interact, what we desire, how we perceive and are perceived, what we reject and are rejected for. It’s messy business, and odomo’s work reflects this. Page after page are filled with smudges and things almost violently crossed out. Some pages are only half-filled, others framed, yet left blank. Thoughts are begun, reflected upon, abandoned or tossed aside in frustration caused by either an inability to understand or the necessity to move forward. Moments of tightly rendered landscapes are juxtaposed with the crosshatch of window screens or almost oppressive urban streets.
Late Bloomer is meditation as much as it is poetry comics, document as much as art. It references as it becomes referential. Towards the end of the book, the pages themselves become photographs of odomo’s journal, filled with images of hastily scribbled birds, interspersed with a few abstract renderings of people in a park. There is a desperation or a longing that remains unfulfilled here, and, by adding the extra distance that the journal borders create, pushes out the connection between not only the artist and their art, but the reader and their experience. It is as if we have become voyeurs together, as if we have stumbled upon this artifact and are both trying to figure out what it means.
Numbers also play a significant role in this book, as if signifiers of order in what, for all extents, is the chaos of life. Numbers here are concrete abstractions that are almost desperate attempts to label and arrange, make sense, or delineate. Yet odomo’s use of numbers becomes haphazard, nonsequential, upended, leading nowhere. They become gestures, suggestions, expressions, losing their power to organize, and, in so doing, gain innuendo. The semoitics of their existence is reframed.
Late Bloomer ends with a figure, their back to us, floating off into a page full of flowers as they shout, “Whatever!!!!” It is both an embrace and a rejection. It is as if odomo has no answers, but in that, gains perspective. It is, perhaps, the final acknowledgement that sometimes retreating is just moving in a new direction.
— Daniel Elkin
By Maggie Umber
Published by 2d Cloud
Normally, a time capsule is defined as “a container storing a selection of objects chosen as being typical of the present time, buried for discovery in the future.” For Maggie Umber, her container is her art and Time Capsule is a cautionary tale of the highest stakes.
Umber’s work is comics poetry insomuch as it is neither narrative nor sequential. It is, instead, a series of images — landscapes, bats, insects, snails, snakes, birds, chimpanzees — boxed in panels, sometimes alone on a page, sometimes crowded together, juxtaposed with numbers and letters, as if apartment addresses, our own little boxes. Everything is rendered in a moment, sometimes nimbly as if to record it as it happens, other times tightly detailed as if by capturing each element of her subject she can give it some permanence. Placed together, her pages resonate with her final admonition, “We are now entering the sixth great mass extinction event. If it is allowed to continue life would take many millions of years to recover and our species itself would likely disappear early on.”
Which begs the question, for whom is this Time Capsule intended?
The answer, of course, is you — the you of the future. Through the manipulation of images Umber demands that you see what is around you and place yourself into a world without. Much like Whitman’s lines in his poem, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”, “These, and all else, were to me the same as they are to you, I project myself a moment to tell you — also I return,” so too does Umber demand that our experiences are universal, that flowers and fauna are part of everyone’s experience, so long as they remain, so long as we remain.
Though Umber has said she conceives her comics as “novels,” Time Capsule is an emotional appeal, a clarion call to appreciate and preserve, a powerful poem that viscerally communicates a necessity. By focusing on what can be lost, we are impelled to consider what to do.
Umber is subtle in this, though, saving this push to the last. By immersing her reader in the complexity and beauty of life on earth, she forces focus on what we so often take for granted. It is in the poetry of this moment, this focus, that we can finally understand the enormity of what can be lost.
— Daniel Elkin