Comics and poetry share many similarities. Both depend on the boiled down image- the distillation surrounded by silence. Both have the possibility of resonances echoing in the space between word or image. Three books that have been on my “think about shelf” exhibit those qualities. Each of these three books is either self-published or from a small publisher. A premium is put on the quality of the book itself.
I discovered Malachi Ward’s Utu at last year’s Stumptown Comics Fest. It is a short haunting story about a man in some unnamed future trying to affect the outcome of a very distant past. Ward uses near silence in the story telling. Utu harks back to 1970’s psychological science fiction. His line work is simple and uncluttered but retains a hand drawn vivacity. The story ends with the past symmetrically reflected in his present. Ward is able to retain the poetics of the medium without sacrificing the clarity of the medium’s past. This is top grade comics.
Aidan Koch’s The Whale is pure poetry. The Whale is about loss and remembrance. A women sifts through the artifacts of a lost lover and tries to fill the void left behind. Koch has a wonderful lightness of touch in her graphite drawings. Her use of white space and scumbled erasure is one of the great pleasures of looking at the book. However, her real trump card is in her economical use of text. The words bounce off the drawings giving the book its emotional weight. The whale in question is one that has been beached far from home. There is a beautiful sequence of the lost whale sounding for its companions.
Jens Harder’s Leviathan takes the whale head on. Combining quotes from Melville’s Moby Dick with long silent sequences Harder reveals a powerful metaphoric whale. The whale in these gorgeous blue and gray drawings emerges as an ancient spirit deep seated in the human psyche. It is a mysterious and beguiling book. The dynamic drawings recall etchings, medieval block prints and heavily cross-hatched adventure comics. Some of the sequences evince formal rigor while others explode maniacally across the page.
All three of these books point to the poetic qualities of comics. These books are great examples of what comics do singularly and best.