Wednesday, March 29, 2006

"Lost in Translation"

Perhaps the purest example of what might be termed the artist's poetic style: seemingly random language, no characters, an emphasis on clean lines and the graphic flow from panel to panel. This has even less plot than "Happiness Is a Warm Fish" (to which it is a sort of sequel), and the language is sparer. There is space to think; each scene is an invitation to quiet obsession.

The last panel quotes from a Wallace Stevens title. Some have insisted that the strip is playing with text and pictures—that the captions for #1 and #4 have been flipped, as have those for #2 and #3 (e.g., "tiny language" refers to the chatter from the TV rather than the purl of a mountain stream). This is probably true, but it's just one of several levels on which this strip works its quiet magic. Especially good is how the artist solved the problem of night in the final box.

From The Yale Herald, February 7, 1992 (Vol. XIII, issue 4)

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"Creature Seen in a Dream From Which I Mercifully Woke Up"

Sharks have figure prominently in the author's nightmares for years, but the oneiric emergence of this multi-finned number probably provoked more wonder than fear. Some sort of aspidistra or octopus appears to be displayed in the background, though whether this was part of the dream or a preexisting doodle is not known. Details not included in this reproduction: a man posing in front of a pyramid, and this fragment: "The sails appearing in the bay like knives."

From "Notes for The Dizzies" (detail), March 24, 2005

Friday, March 17, 2006

"About the Author"

This strip belongs to—indeed, epitomizes—what might be called the "Minor Epiphany" subgenre of Saturnheads. A real-life incident is conveyed simply in the text, without overburdening it with meaning; the eureka happens (if it does) because of the art, which is just as simple but enters the reader's mind at a different angle.

Indeed, angle is key here—notice the echo of the vacuum cleaner's slant (#1 and #3) in that of the sunlight (final panel). The sun itself (hilariously crammed into the window in #1) gets transformed into the "crumb" of #2, but (as we eventually learn) that morsel is indeed part of the same material, as it were (light).

The word "vaccum" floating above the strip must have been the artist's attempt to check his usually impeccable spelling, a good move in this case. (Panel three contains a less-used variant of "traveled," however.)

From The Yale Herald, January 12, 1992 (Vol. XII, issue 2)

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

"Overlooked at the Philatelists' Pow-Wow" (Part I)

An early interest in philately provided the organizational idea for this portfolio of tiny sketches. The turretlike perforation marks are a favorite detail of the artist, and it is likely that this series began when he threw such a frame around the topmost drawing. The "Chinatown" stamp is based on the business card of his hairdresser; the cultural reference point is nicely smudged by the passage from the Toto song "Africa". The assorted incense burners remain one of the more enigmatic instances of ornamentation in the artist's work.

From untitled black sketchbook ("EJP"), February 17, 2000

Friday, March 10, 2006

"Look, Ma, No Exclamation Points!"

One can point out the rolling hill-lines that give the strip continuity, the self-defeating title, the way the flower on the shirt in panel one becomes material in panel two—but the magic of this strip is simple, and therefore harder to parse. That is to say, fifteen years later, it can still put a big smile on the unsuspecting reader's face.

From The Yale Herald, April 13, 1991 (Vol. IX, issue 11)

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"The Adventures of God"

Another one-off, this one featuring an Almighty with feelings. The previous week's Saturnhead had featured God as a character, and it seems that the artist unexpectedly took a liking to the bearded deity. The rather mystical mode is sustained by an unusually smooth panel flow: The thought bubble in the first box is alluded to in the next box—though the percolating circles are actually air bubbles, and the bottom of the thought balloon is the cresting seam between sky and sea. It's a subtle metamorphosis that mirrors the change undertaken by God; the bubble confusion eases the transition, for now God-as-fish is having thoughts, the way God-as-God was. Had the strip been able to fit five panels, the last one would have been wordless, just more fish swimming by at their leisure.

From The Yale Herald, October 18, 1991 (Vol. XII, issue 7)

Saturday, March 04, 2006

"I Shall Carry Ev'ry Bucket o' Fish"

The novel The Diet of Worms has little to do with fish, or buckets, let alone buckets filled with fish, but this whimsical illustration found on the first page of a small (4 x 8") notepad kept during the composition of the DOW seems to suggest otherwise.

—From "Notes for The Diet of Worms" (detail), March 18, 1996