For her masters thesis in the visual narrative program at New York City’s School of Visual Arts, Brooklyn-based infographics artist and comics creator Jenny Goldstick explored the memory of her earliest heartbreak. In alignment with the SVA faculty’s efforts to help “prepare artists and authors to become innovators in the ever-evolving art of visual storytelling,” she used comics and digital animation to produce a memoir about a relationship that went south back in her hometown, a suburb of a Chicago. Goldstick’s project, This Is My Memory of First Heartbreak, Which I Can’t Quite Piece Back Together, ultimately plumbs deeper than the unraveling between her and the boyfriend that she’d had back then.
“What is the navigational structure of a memory?” she asked aloud during her thesis presentation at the SVA space in July. She spoke rapidly, packing loads of ideas and details into each beat and seemed to pause for air only occasionally. She cycled through charts and various number-driven visualizations of the timeline of her relationship, citing a “chart addiction” and her choice to ultimately build the project like a leveled game, to “capture the uncapturable.” That night, Goldstick demo’d the finished piece for a small crowd — a short animated film that was less about traditional grids and narrative captions and more a freely flowing array of single panels, with sparse word balloons that corralled the stinging dialogues we associate with breakups.
“At first, I wanted to explore what was true and what was false,” she explained.
Goldstick’s subdued color palette and affecting scene-setting — in which an object or boundary line (a metal fence, a radio, the ledge of a porch) usually forces the story’s pair of silhouettes to appear as if in separate worlds entirely — are reminiscent of how Richard McGuire’s graphic novel Here is set up (McGuire was her thesis advisor, and Goldstick worked on Here‘s interactive edition). Even as she essentially diagrammed her breakup here and then packaged it as forward-looking storytelling, there is an analogue universality at work and a very familiar path back toward the days that she is examining. For all of its lustrous packaging — the project’s crisp digital coloring and seamless animation — I still felt like a nearby observer as everything came apart, as if I were right there, peering into the pages of a journal or a private photo flipbook.
“Sun in My Eyes,” a new strip from a Texas-born comics creator Tillie Walden, who is earning her fine arts in cartooning masters degree at the Center for Cartoon Studies, appears in the August/September issue of UK comics and illustration magazine OFF LIFE. The seven-panel, one-page work is black and white and splashed with yellow, and is light on text. But as Walden has evidently been fickle with her word choice here, her curt captions read more like journal scribblings, heavy with a sharp dislike for sodden summer warmth. In the first panel: “I haven’t been getting enough sleep lately.” The narration for the second — “The heat crawls all over me, keeping my eyes open” — pairs with a drawing of the face of a sweaty young woman who is the size of a fairytale’s giant, resting on a hill between two homes, each crowned with a a smoking chimney that is no doubt adding to her frustration with the season and likely with adolescence. Walden’s 2015 graphic novel The End of Summer, which confines a wealthy family behind the locked, grandiose doors of their enormous home, touches on similar themes.
The “giant” in The End of Summer is a cat, but as the family here is waiting-out a bitter winter, summer warmth isn’t the ghastly obstacle it is in Walden’s OFF LIFE comic. These beautifully inkwash-painted pages don’t always make for easy reading. For one, I’m still slowly digesting the jaw-dropping detail lent to carving out the backdrop’s florid building interiors, each an architectural wonder thanks to Walden’s efforts to illuminate the lines in the wealth of decorative arcs and cylindrical figures that dot the halls. Secondly, a depressed and dying thirteen year-old boy named Lars narrates The End of Summer and longs for the companionship of his often adrift twin sister Maja. As his thoughts are frequently fluid with abstractions when they aren’t just lovesick in nature, it isn’t easy to grasp exactly what is unfolding in each sequence, which probably suits well this mysterious and distinctive book.
While the dialogue is frank and blood runs a deep shade of red in Dark Corridor, there’s some mystery here, too, and its vibrant, lush colors and punchy storytelling from Rich Tommaso have the new crime series off to a compelling start.
Tommaso’s book, the newest in a line of crime comics such as Dry County, the recently updated and reissued Clover Honey, and more, is an anthology of sorts, though a single thread snakes through two separate but connected tales. In these stories, both conceived around 2007-2008 with the second one having originally been pitched to DC’s Vertigo imprint, the New Jersey-born creator and Recoil Comics publisher breathes new life into the stale roles that women are usually assigned in old gangster yarns by arming them with weapons and positioning them at the forefront of Dark Corridor, rather than at the stove or in the bedroom. Tommaso’s stubby-nosed male characters — whom still dominate the panels regardless of women having prominent roles — are more familiar, but they’re suspicious of an unknown element at work in these first two chunks of the narrative. They’re contract killers and corrupt detectives, stepping over corpses in a debut that puts the body count at two deep before we get to the tenth page, or divvying up a haul of stolen jewelry in sleek, mid-century modern homes. Not unlike Darwyn Cooke’s Parker books, the setting and era allow for a fetching mix of backdrops, too, from coastal highways and snazzy living room interiors to the geometrically immaculate lines of the vintage Palm Springs-type home facades. Behind the doors of these handsome buildings, though, something lingers in the shadows. It’ll be fun to watch the less polished cops and thieves of Tommaso’s making try and figure it out.
All Dark Corridor images © 2015 Rich Tommaso. All This Is My… images © 2015 Jenny Goldstick. All The End of Summer images © 2015 Tillie Walden.