Prior to becoming Editor in Chief of SOLRAD, I used to run a comics criticism (among other things) site called Your Chicken Enemy. On that site, I did a capsule review column called Books in Bites that featured books that I had been reading. I thought I would bring it back and give it a new home on SOLRAD. So that’s what I’m doing. And here we go…
by Matthew Daley
Published by Black Eye Books
Abstract comics are some of my favorite comics for a few reasons. First, just as functioning as works of art in and of themselves, they stop the viewer – forcing pause – to linger over each panel or page, focusing on line and composition and, if necessary, color choices. Next, as abstract comics are comics, there is that presumption of narrative – that the artist took to the medium to say something, to tell some sort of story or to wear their heart on their sleeve (or, in this case, page). Abstract comics put the audience more to the forefront in this regard – the audience creates the narrative out of seemingly obtuse connections – strange markings that, at first glance, seem almost disparate and self-contained – making the story that is told all that more personal and reflective of individual values, as the reader themselves must put the puzzle pieces together through their own sense-making gizmos (and all the intrinsic narratives all of us bring to the table). Finally, for me at least, abstract comics linger longer in memory – their images appear outside of the page and into the real world as I catch small lines in the trees or the powerlines, cracks in the sidewalk or the angles of buildings, that remind me of panels or pages from the comic I just read.
I love that.
Assorted Baggage by Matthew Daley is abstract comics. It succeeds for all the reasons above, but there is also a sense of play and exploration that manifests in its colors and straight edges and repetition. It took me a few reads to feel that I landed at a place of comfort for me – that I made the sense that I needed to make in order to feel satisfied with the experience – and if you are willing to give it that kind of respect, Daley respects you back with what he has created.
by Sas Milledge
Published by Boom! Box
This book came to me via my subscription to the Graphic Novel Club from San Francisco-based comic shop, Comix Experience. It’s not a book I would have picked up on my own, certainly. And this, I guess, is one of the great things about being in a Graphic Novel Club, as books totally off your radar end up in your hands suddenly sometimes every month.
Sas Millege’s debut graphic novel, Mamo, is certainly a product of its times – these themes and characters could only appear in a book from a major publisher in the last decade or so. I certainly applaud Boom! for putting out YA LGBTQ+ books into an America in the grip of a new iteration of the endless cycle of Christofascist culture war backlash we seem to cyclically have to endure. And Mamo is a solid offering. It’s clean and crisp comic making with some luscious coloring and a few interesting layout choices that keep you turning the pages.
It’s just… I don’t know … tired, kind of. It’s relatively predictable in its way as, thankfully, it is no longer ground-breaking or particularly inventive to tell this story anymore. The book serves its purpose and does so with competence and earnestness, but… again, I don’t know … there just seems to be a flatness to the whole thing – as if it was either deflated through the corporate editorial process or Milledge just didn’t have the connection to the story and characters that really need to be there in order for it to have…. heart?
It’s not bad. It’s just not…. good? Again… I don’t know. It’s hard to articulate an opinion on things that don’t strike you with either an emotional or intellectual impact – I don’t think I could write more than a few sentences on tepid tap water without it sounding forced or pedantic.
So – Mamo – it’s a nice book. I’m sure there are audiences out there for it.
by Suehiro Maruo
Translated by Ryan Sands and Kyoko Nitta
Published by Last Gasp of San Francisco
This is a beautiful book to experience. It’s also a terrifying book to experience. Explorations around identity, desire, madness, obsession, eroticism, violence, and the very fabric of the agreements we make to function as a society – all of this abounds, overwhelmingly and delicately splayed across the pages.
The balance between revulsion and attraction this book tries to maintain is entirely dependent on what the reader brings to the experience. It all finally explodes in a literal rain of blood – and the question of whether this is a satisfying end persists days, weeks, months after reading. The most fascinating thing about The Strange Tale of Panorama Island is the process of reading it itself, paying attention to your own reactions to what you are reading in the moment, and then comparing those reactions to your overall sense of the experience when you are done. There’s something fascinating about the difference between the macro- and micro-moments of reaction that, somehow, makes me realize that I should be noticing this difference more often.
Maruo has made something exquisite and horrifying. The Strage Tale of Panorama Island desperately tries to push you away – to turn your view askance – and yet Maruo is so talented an artist that the work draws you in and engages you in a manner that makes it almost impossible to look away.