The Vancouver Public Library is 6 floors of books. Each floor is dedicated to a different field. There’s an entire floor of books on scientific subjects. I sure wish I could report that the topmost floor is all comics. I can’t. But the VPL has a respectable assortment of comics. Two sections – to be exact- on the first floor which is devoted to “popular” books. One section of comics is located under the Young Adults umbrella. I’m pleased to report that this section is decently stocked with a diverse array of indie and superhero books which would conceivably appeal to pre-teens. Nearer to the entrance sits the Graphic Novel section (can we please ban the use of that term?). That’s where I settled on an unusual anthology.
Opening on an overly explanatory and completely unnecessary introduction is not the best foot forward for arguably inaccessible anthology. Comics are already (mostly) a niche media sometimes snubbed by the fine art elite, sometimes embraced by socially inept outcast nerd types. The medium defends itself already 0n multiple fronts (in the western world). This was possibly one of editor, Andrei Moltiu’s preoccupations while compiling this collection of art several subgenre’s deep. I think the anthology is stronger without its introduction. The works make a bold statement, to point out the statement weakens it by taking the instinctually primal reaction the audience will have to the work and placing it in their more rational and linear intellect. This anthology needs to be experienced on one side of the brain only.
Nonetheless, the collection does exist and the public at large is richer for it. One positive thing the intro does do is provide parameters for defining what abstract comics are while acknowledging the considerable overlap existing across whatever definition of comics genre one might impose. The book may serve the practicality of genre labeling but pays homage to a more ontological tradition of examining the medium as well.
Abstract comics are not the most common creature so the selection presented here is rather astounding. You’ll find virtually no text in any of the works. In fact, in all but a few exceptions you’d be hard-pressed to find any sort of linear narrative at all. Making the density of material all the more surprising. If you’re willing to apply yourself to assimilating this book, you’ll be spending a considerable amount of time with it. For instance, Ibn Al Rabin’s abstract cartoons depict ideas that if quickly gleaned will seem like nothing but amusing experimentations. Further delving however, reveals a sort of conceptual punchline, like in Stop Quibbling, Please. These make for particularly rewarding reading experiences. Then you’ll encounter something gracefully epic such as Alexey Solokin’s Life, Interwoven. A jaw-droppingly gorgeous assemblage of line drawings on vellum, stacking in an elegantly frenzied orchestral crescendo. Or you’ll encounter the measured chaos symbolism of Jeff Zenick’s compellingly impenetrable Because. Followed by Bill Shut’s not-so-ambiguously vaginal exploration of panel composition. Other times, layouts are simply explorations of movement in a static medium such as one shape turning into another one. Robert Crumb also makes an appearance.
While exploring this collection, I found myself enjoying the various challenges it presented. It did dare me to eschew my “western” values of linear, results oriented thinking and simply give way to my intuitive understanding of the art before me. I can’t honestly say I “get” every comic contained withing this anthology (I’ve yet to even read each one) nor can I truly say I learned something about the medium that I didn’t already know. But to see comics stripped of their representational elements does amplify certain things that are so unique about the medium and probably reveals its potential even more fully. These are comics to be experienced. Skip the intro, dive in and let your mind drown in this world. Your consciousness will thank you.