I wrote a bit about Kurt Ankeny's previous book before. Pleading with Stars is his new collection from Adhouse Books, and it leaves me much less impressed. There's a lot of nice drawing in here, particular "Between December and March" which is all colored pencil and "Gulls" which appears to be watercolor. But, none of the narratives of these did anything for me. Some of the stories I found obscure and others just too slight to care. This is not an uncommon problem for cartoonists, where the visual skill overtakes narrative skill. You don't often seem the opposite, probably because writers can just write a story rather than make a comic.
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Read Kurt Ankeny's In Pieces: Someplace Which I Call Home last night. I picked it up after his week of The Cartoonist's Diary at The Comics Journal, which were lovely painted strips. This book is all pencil and ink, but still autobiographical. The backcover calls it a "graphic novel", using that term in that marketing sense that has shorn it of any meaning other than "a comic, mostly likely with a spine". In this case, it means a series of vignettes and drawn from life images about Ankeny and his life in Ipswich, MA. The vignettes are mostly observational, often related to what he sees outside his studio window(s) or while out walking. They occasional move into the poetic register, but also the humourous or melancholy. These are comics of observation both narratively and visually. The large single page drawings of spots around the town that are interspersed with the comics are all drawn from life, but the comics themselves also have that realist mode that indicates they are based on observation.
The panels are often airy, well composed. Mostly what I think is pencil line (darkened a bit for printing?) with denser areas filled in or left a bit textured. It is only in paging back through it now that I really notice that almost all the pages are layed out in three rows with 3, 1, and 2 panels respectively, an unusual layout that does provide it's own rhythm: set-up, long shot/pause, slower ending. Some of the pages are more successfully than others, and I think the necessity of physical space means that it's not always clear when the vignettes are single page or multi-page. That would have been solved with more white pages or more of the single page drawings, but also would have ballooned the page count quite a bit. I find that issue rather frequently with single page comics in books: they don't always have the room to breathe, you page from one to the next and sometimes you're already on the next page before you realize the last page was meant to be it's own self-contained experience. All in all, I enjoyed the book, and I'm looking forward to reading more from Ankeny.
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