Tiny Pages Made of Ashes is Comics Bulletin’s Small Press Review Column
By Tommi Parrish
Published by 2dcloud
Late last December, Kim Jooha asked Australian cartoonist Tommi Parrish what their new book from Minneapolis-based publisher 2dcloud, Perfect Hair, was about. Parrish answered, “Surviving.” What might come off as being a flippant response to a complex question became, after reading Perfect Hair, a momentous answer.
Perfect Hair is a seemingly disjointed narrative about the stories surrounding the divided lives of two friends, Nicola and Cleary, as they struggle to make both connections and sense of the world around them. Navigating the complex dichotomies of desire and identity, of participation and observance, of the stories they tell themselves and the stories they tell others, becomes, at its heart, a narrative of surviving. What is at stake is losing the self to expectations and meaninglessness. Being passed by. Just taking up space.
Parrish accomplishes this through her distinctive cartooning style. Bodies are huge, bulky and hulking. Heads are tiny and round with faces rendered abstractly, their features oftentimes expressionless or non-existent. Backgrounds fluctuate from tightly detailed to swaths of colors. Some pages are gently washed in soft watercolors, others contain panels of expressive pencil lines, and yet others become intermingled inked bodies undulating in negative space. This flow of styles adds to the rhythm of the narrative, providing poignant beats to the dissonance through which these characters are maneuvering.
Throughout Perfect Hair lingers ghosts, that vague feeling that something outside is looking in, adding to the voyeuristic sensibility inherent in a book of this type. Through the abstraction of the cartooning and the disjointed nature of the narrative, the reader is purposefully made to feel apart from what is happening, even as Parrish draws you in. Even moments of interior monologue allow for little access, even less connection. Yet somehow the book is still immersive, deeply engaging, recognizable in a deep-seated manner. Nicola and Cleary as characters are funhouse mirror reflections of the basic need to be part of something larger that the reader cannot help but see themselves magnified in, all flaws amplified, every imperfection cast in a bright light.
In Perfect Hair you see what you hate most about yourself, and it reminds you how strong you are as you make your way through. The last panel of this book, moody and dark as it is, reinforces the fact that you’re not alone.
It may only be the middle of March, but Perfect Hair is already in the running for this reviewer’s “Best Of 2017” list and Tommi Parrish has cemented their place in my pantheon of Artists to Watch. Buy it. Read it. See for yourself.
-- Daniel Elkin @DanielElkin
SOUND OF SNOW FALLING
By Maggie Umber
Published by 2dcloud
Available as part of 2dcloud’s Spring Collection Kickstarter
Recently I’ve been learning mindfulness meditation. In my mindfulness training I’ve learned to transport my mind from my everyday stressors to a place that fills me with bliss. My perfect place is called Baker Lake. On my recent hike around Baker Lake, I was able to achieve a near-perfect solitude. There was literally no person within five miles of me in any direction, so I felt a deep sense of serenity as being a lone interloper in the midst of majestic, unspoiled, natural beauty. I felt embraced in the divine peace of a perfectly calm natural scene, blissfully silent except for fish thrashing in the river and eagles screeching above my head.
In a real way, my day at the lake was a vision of the sublime, a moment in which all my quotidian detritus slipped away into its insignificance and I could bask in the steadfast infinity of nature’s complex gifts.
Which brings me to Maggie Umber’s gorgeous new graphic novel Sound of Snow Falling, released by 2dcloud.
Umber delivers a graphic novel similar to my perfect day: a visit to nature to observe the simple, untrammeled splendor of forest life. Its protagonists are a family of owls, but these are not the kinds of cartoonish owls one might find in a kids’ comic. Instead, the owls, porcupines, raccoons, deer and other animals in this book are illustrated realistically, as they live their daily lives as painted by Umber.
Umber does a wonderful job of bringing her scenes to life. In one gorgeous sixteen-panel sequence that crosses two pages, we witness one of the owls slowly and deliberately build a nest, sometimes drawn in the middle of the panel and sometimes away from view but always in action. The effect is similar to the finest nature shows -- Planet Earth, say, but with a graceful storytelling sense that reflects a smart sense of comic book art and design.
In another set of panels, an open two-page sequence with a gorgeous sense of movement, Umber shows a mating ritual between the two owls. In a moment that mirrors human behavior without anthropomorphizing the birds, one owl offers the other a mouse as a tiny, wriggling token of love. Similarly, Umber delivers another two-page spread that juxtaposes the gestation of an owl egg against a parallel image of the phases of the moon. In both sequences, she conveys complicated ideas and timelines with designs the user intuitively understands.
Umber presents her vision of the natural sublime with a wonderful painterly eye for color and detail. Daytime scenes are a riot of color while nighttime scenes are silhouetted in a deep and empathetic blue. The birds are rendered as much by their implied shapes as by their actual appearances, and the effect is both invigorating and reassuring.
Which brings me back to my perfect place, my ideal alpine lake in the woods. I meditate on that lake because it reminds me of the glorious imperfect perfection of nature just a couple of hours drive from my house. Sound of Snow Falling is a gorgeous reminder of that same perfection. In this delightful book, Umber has captured a small reflection of the natural divine.
-- Jason Sacks @jasonsacks