I’m not going to review that book though.
Instead, I wanted to take a look at Kiersh’s 2008 mini-comic Neverland (distributed by Bodega), which is perhaps a better starting point for taking in his work, being a smaller, shorter, cheaper book at only 30 pages. It’s also a nice introduction to his highly idiosyncratic art style, and features a story that functions like something that’s part personal essay, part poem and part manifesto.
At six-and-a-half-inches tall and four-and-a-half-inches wide, the book itself is a squat yellow square, the cover image a bold, black set of abstract silhouettes suggesting a building and water tower beneath a sky of black stars.
The pages inside are less vibrant in their yellow and stark in their black, but the color scheme remains the same.
The inside covers are covered with abstract doodles that look a little like alien hieroglyphics, blending together to form a flat, maze-like wall, which, a page turn or two later, coalesces into the small-town setting of the book.
The pages are divided into grids, sometimes splash pages with big, round black borders, other times a collection of smaller panels with square-er borders, and the pictures inside them are a mixture of fat outlines and fussed over little scribbly-lines adding textures and shadows.
There’s a real naiveté to the art, whether affected or not, that gives it the look and feel of child-like art, although it’s so complex it must be the work of a skilled adult. The writing is similarly faux primitive, sometimes teen angsty enough to seem like it’s almost a parody of the sorts of things creative teens write in their journals, but with a raw emotion and palpable sense of yearning that’s hard to fake (And if Kiersh were making a joke of it, he’d need to push it a little further).
The writing is communicated with snatches of words that hover below and above the panels, sometimes in narration boxes, sometimes outside the borders, stretched out across the gutters in a way that’s parallel to the panels. They may form sentences, but there aren’t always complete sentences moored to each complete panel.
After a “Once upon a time…” beginning, the words and panels give us a quick tour of a dead or dying small town as seen from a sad, nostalgic point of view, culminating in a map of sorts, before plunging through a quick set of memories. Our protagonist is a grocery store clerk, who wants to be creative and make art after work, but instead reads a book—Peter Pan—and falls asleep, having a dream that forms the bulk of the book.
Being too grown-up to experience J. M. Barrie’s Neverland in the way that it was intended, our young hero’s subconscious simply uses it as a prism through which to focus his sexual fantasies and memories. So when he sees the mermaids, he focuses on the fact that they’re topless, and his Peter Pan and Captain Hook are both women, who rip at one another’s tops while fighting.
When he wakes up, the fantasy gets channeled into the work we’re reading, so that the rest of the book is even more dream-like than the actual dream sequence, and Kiersh’s words move from self-analytical to focus on a concrete addressee, a “you” with whom some sort of romantic relationship seems to exist. This climaxes with a two-page spread that echoes the map of the town our narrator/protagonist lives in, only this one is a fairytale world of castles and storybook characters instead of fast food restaurants and gas stations.
I liked it quite a bit, although it’s easy to see how and why some could read it and hate the heart-on-the-sleeve, adolescent sentimentality of it (In fact, that’s part of the reason I liked it so much). It’s definitely an eloquent address to anyone who’s been disappointed with themselves for making the choices they’ve made, not lived up to the potential they thought they had and/or felt way too old before they were hardly even adults. Which, I suspect, is an awful lot of people—particularly among artists of any kind and fans of any sort of escapist hobby. Like, for example, reading comics.
Neverland portends well for Dirtbags, Mallchicks & Dirtbikes.