Out of Picture, Volume 2
Written and Illustrated by Andrea Blasich, Nash Dunnigan, David Gordon, Michael Knapp, Benoit le Pennec, Sang Jun Lee, Kyle MacNaughton, Peter Nguyen,Vincent Nguyen, Jake Parker, Willie Real, Jason Sadler, Daisuke Tsutsumi, and Lizette Vega
If I’m going to talk about Out of Picture, I gotta talk about illustrators first. I always note the writers and primary illustrator at the top of my reviews, but I think I might be doing some of the visual artists a disservice by referring to them primarily as illustrators.
An illustration, whether it’s a picture or a verbal thing, is an explanation. It’s intention is to make your story or your point or whatever clearer. Yeah, visual illustrations can be beautiful pieces of work on their own, but they really succeed or fail based on how well they clarify the writing. And that’s a lot different from what we’re asking comic book artists to do.
A comic book artist (or cartoonist, if she’s drawing her own story) has to do a lot more than take a story and make it prettier or – ideally – more understandable. In comics, the visual artist is supposed to be part of the storytelling process. There’s acting to be done, with facial expressions and body language. Yes, the best illustrators do all that too, but it isn’t as vital to – as inextricably a part of – what the book is. That’s why I hate all the arguments about whether the writer or the artist is more important to the final product. It has to be both of them or it isn’t comics. The visual artist has to be every bit as much a storyteller as the verbal artist or your comic sucks.
I use the acting example above as only a part of the visual artists’ responsibility. He’s also got to make sure the layout is good and that the action flows. She sets the mood for the entire story. There’s way more to it than that too. Way more than I’ll ever be able to understand.
And conversely, the visual art can be breathtakingly beautiful, with tons of pathos and just the right mood. It can create worlds you long to lose yourself in. But without a strong story to support it, the comic’s still no good either.
I haven’t read the first volume of Out of Picture, but Volume 2 is a breathtakingly beautiful anthology with tons of pathos, just the right moods, and it’s full of worlds I long to lose myself in. Unfortunately, few of the tales presented in it have strong stories to support them.
I won’t mention all of them, but let me give you a few examples to show you what I mean. Then I’ll tell you about a couple of notable exceptions.
Sang Jun Lee’s “The Fun Trip” is an adorable, wordless account of a young boy’s adventure into the city. Unfortunately, I can’t make sense out of what happens to him there. People suddenly change outfits, he’s on land, he’s under water, he’s on land again. He’s being manhandled by a shark, he’s washing dishes with octopi. And this is all from one panel to the next. Is this really happening to him? Is he using his imagination to enliven routine errands? I don’t know. I wish I did know, because he certainly looks like he’s having fun. And it looks like Sang Jun Lee had fun creating it. I just wish that I’d been included in the fun too instead of having to stand back and scratch my head as I tried to figure out what was going on.
Kyle MacNaughton’s “Part 1” is similarly incomprehensible, but at least benefits from the suggestion its title makes that maybe it’ll be explained in “Part 2.” It’s another wordless tale, but I have nothing against wordless comics I swear. I just need to be able to tell what’s going on from the pictures. But MacNaughton’s story – as grand and solemn as the art is – does nothing but present the scenario of a group of travelers who journey for a while, turn into polar bears, and then journey some more. The end. Where are they going? Why are they going there? No idea. If there are more parts, I’d love to see them, but I’m not sure that there are. The title of the piece doesn’t even tell you what it’s “Part 1” of, and my fear is that MacNaughton doesn’t know either.
There are other stories in Out of Picture 2 that are easy to understand, but just aren’t complete. Jason Sadler’s “Sub Plotter” is like that. Again, it’s so beautiful to look at. Sadler’s characters are so funny and expressive. But “Sub Plotter” isn’t so much story as it is a cute joke about a navy plotter’s unintended effects on the ships she’s directing. It builds to and delivers the punchline, gives one more quick, cute moment, then it’s done.
Also, Vincent Nguyen’s “The Carnivore,” but that one’s not intended to be funny. It reminds me of the standard horror anthology tale with the ironic, twist ending. Except of course that the art is stunning and makes you want to linger on each panel as you melt into it.
And there’s so much of that in Out of Picture. As an art book, I can’t say enough nice things about it. As a comics anthology though…
David Gordon’s “The Rupture” is one that surprised me when I re-read it. My first time through, I was disappointed that it isn’t a story at all, but a series of vignettes about endings. In between illustrated prose pieces about nuclear weapons and 9/11, Gordon gives us scenes of people breaking up and losing loved ones. It’s heavy, heartfelt stuff, but I was frustrated that there was no narrative to it. Until I realized that Gordon’s written a comics version of a poem. He’s given us a progression of powerful experiences and asked us to recall our own endings and feel the loss with him. There’s some powerful, if unconventional storytelling there.
But there are also a couple of nicely done, conventional tales as well. Lizette Vega’s “Crawdaddyo” looks like a Disney animated film and reads like a Looney Tunes cartoon. It’s delightful and whimsical to see and the story of three crocodiles trying to catch a crawdad is just as fun to read as it is to look at. It’s not an empty joke. There’s no cute punchline. It’s just a series of very funny moments that leave you wanting more just like them. I’d read a whole book of Crawdaddyo strips.
Andrea Blasich’s “Are You the Right Color?” is the other great one. It’s wordless, but the story about a little, orange elephant in a herd of grey is as easy to follow and understand as it is beautiful and moving. It doesn’t necessarily leave me wanting more of that particular strip – it’s perfect just the way it is – but it does leave me wanting more of Mr. Blasich’s work.
If only the whole book could’ve been that good.