I Don’t Like My Hair Neat #1-2; I Wished I Was Married to the Sea

Have you ever underrated someone while praising them to the heavens? A friend perhaps, someone whose dress sense and confidence you’ve long admired without realizing that in doing so you were also reducing them to those qualities?  Worse still, that you had somehow decided that because these attributes were so hard to ignore, your were somehow giving them all the attention they required just by doing that?

That’s how I felt when I read the second volume of I Don’t Like My Hair Neat for the first time. I’d written a snappy, enthusiastic review of the first issue earlier in the same year, one that I thought was appropriate to Julia Scheele‘s talents in tone if not in excellence.

It was clear to me even then that Scheele is a better cartoonist than I am a writer.

The second issue initially seemed to me to be something else, something more traditionally laudable.  Reading it on the train up from that year’s Thought Bubble in my traditional vulnerable, hung-up and borderline euphoric post-con state, I was surprised and overwhelmed.  At the risk of getting a bit Dead Zone about it, I felt like the ice was going to break:

Make of this what you will. For me, it’s evidence that the bullshit critical distinction between Style and Content is somehow alive and in me in the present tense, some half a century after Sustan Sontag publicly annihilated it in ‘On Style’:

Practically all metaphors for style amount to placing matter on the inside, style on the outside. It would be more to the point to reverse the metaphor. The matter, the subject, is on the outside; the style is on the inside. As Cocteau writes: “Decorative style has never existed. Style is the soul, and unfortunately with us the soul assumes the form of the body.” Even if one were to define style as the manner of our appearing, this by no means necessarily entails an opposition between a style that one assumes and one’s “true” being. In fact, such a disjunction is extremely rare. In almost every case, our manner of appearing is our manner of being. The mask is the face…

Click here to find out how any half-decent analysis of Scheele’s style makes my initial confusion about her subject matter seem not only dumb but callow!

I might have come away from the Thought Bubble comics convention with a terrible hangover and an overwhelming desire to have a proper rummage through the back issue bins, but I can’t say that I came back short of good zines, great comics and better memories.

Here are five of the most exciting books I picked up last weekend…

1. Jonathan Chandler – Another Blue World (Breakdown Press, 2015)

At last Saturday’s SILENCE! x Breakdown Press interview panel, Jonathan Chandler was discussed as an artist who had staked out territory similar to that which Brian Chippendale had occupied but who had got there before it became a trendy holiday destination for art house cartoonists.

I’m not familiar enough with the man’s work to debate these claims, but reading Another Blue World what struck me was how important Chandler’s elusive sense of space is to communicating this particular set of hostile environments:

It’s not so much that Chandler is limiting what the reader can see to a few tufts of grass or a short stretch of water around his characters that makes his work stand out, more that he seemingly feels no pressure to fill up blank space on the page.

In a Brian Chippendale comic we might find ourselves feeling overwhelmed by the amount of detail, struggling to distinguish signal from noise whether we’re faced with the tiny cramped panels of Maggots or the wider canvases of If’n Oof or Ninja. In Prison Pit we are confronted blocky horror after blocky horror, but we know that this grim escalation will follow proceed through the sort of absurd escalations that are Johnny Ryan’s speciality.

Reading Chandler’s work, meanwhile, we are confronted with an eerie silence. All around us, we find unreadable white space, all of it primed with danger. Forms approach, assaults are perpetrated, sex is weaponised, but we can never be sure whether things are going to get worse or just sort of hang there:

I might crave for something beyond this harsh replication of animalistic imperatives, but there’s no denying that Another Blue World makes them painfully vivid.

Speaking of moving beyond, here’s Lando, back with another bleak, arid and yet undeniably stylish science fiction story!

Windowpane #1, by Joe Kessler 

 

There’s a point early on in this comic where you realise that you’re not so much watching characters describe a landscape as watching the landscape try work out how to describe itself. This might seem counter-intuitive but from the end of the first story onward the pattern repeats itself – Joe Kessler’s garish, pastel-hued compositions either  break down into their constituent lines after exhaustive exploration or sit there seemingly unaffected by the words and actions that have passed through them.

The best example of the latter category involves a wet-dream about a pig in a dress, whose fall through the night sky is contrasted against an unflinching cityscape with a moment-by-moment precision that does far better justice to the pithy punchline than this description:

In the former category, the Invisible Cities-derived third strip is as close to definitive as Windowpane gets.  The way it links its characters shared status as splashes of ink and colour on the page with their philosophising about the interconnected nature of reality — “…a cluster of atoms resembles a cluster of galaxies.”/”Well they’re both clusters” – might seem trite in isolation, but the surrounding stories make these philosophical observations feel more like a little bit of texture on a varied landscape.

All of this might  sound a bit chilly and distant, but Kessler’s human figures are depicted with a deceptive sort of ease, as a series of curving lines whose relationships to each other is nevertheless very carefully observed and delineated:

 

Still, in keeping with Kessler’s paradoxical thematic schemata it’s the backgrounds that are the focus here, existing as they do on the precise point where detail blurs into abstraction.  The interaction between text and territory here has a sly kinshsip with Dylan Horrocks writing on maps and comics, and perhaps also with Kevin Huizenga’s conception of the comics page as a place for exploration and discovery, but Kessler’s backgrounds have a forcefulness to them that resists his characters attempts at attaching meaning as much as it encourages them.

This is tricky relationship is most clearly explored in the final two strips.  In  the penultimate entry, words shrink on the page as Kessler depicts his precarious human figures parachuting in to kindle-worthy hillscape:

Thought and language here is reduced to a form of quaint annotation that is far less effective than the blocky symbols that line these panels in terms of providing a guide to this hazardous landscape.

The final story focuses on a burned lover who – uh, *SPOILERS* – tries to find solace in the freak resemblance between a man and a decapitated bull.  It plays out like a sneaky assurance that the process of muck sitting up and looking itself and trying to figure itself out isn’t totally meaningless, but it’s the sort of assurance that’s both underlined and undermined by the fact that,  unlike any given sunset, you know this resemblance was put there to be noticed.

Click here to read about more gud comics on the site that just can’t seem to quit you, no matter how many resolutions it makes!