May 21, 2013


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Life Through The Lens
(Kent Olsen, Sabine ten Lohuis)
4/5 stars
Life Through the Lens is a comic about two Chicago-based film critics who are struggling to separate fiction from reality in their lives. As a new year begins, they find themselves at some sort of pivotal moment in which ideas about narrative form and the actual narrative of their lives seem to overlap, and, in this, they become disassociated from each other as well as their own sense of self. It's a book thick with ideas, references, and subtle meta-textual tricks.  It's the kind of book you would expect from someone who majored in both philosophy and film studies.
Luckily writer Kent Olsen is that someone.
This book is to be the first in a larger series of 10 to 13 issues, and it reads like the start of something larger than it is. But Life Through the Lens also can be seen as a self-contained commentary on the pervasiveness of entertainment culture. As it comments on the ideas of what makes film either engaging or repellant, it comments on itself. As our characters talk about films that "meander from scene to scene with no real purpose" and those that seem like "ideas in a blender," the reader cannot help but draw parallels to how this book itself is constructed. It's as if the dialogue that makes up the story of this comic is purposefully layered with non-sequiturs.
But that is a ruse. Olsen has the bigger picture in mind. 
One of the characters comments on some of the problems with indie film-making by saying, "They think cause it's hard to follow it's deep."  There are times when Life Through the Lens is hard to follow, but that's not what makes it "deep" -- it comes off as purposeful, full of observation, aware of its own intricacies. Olsen has written on the back cover, "Many Filters Keep Reality At Bay. For every lens we make to see the world anew, focus is found in losses and gains."
Here the world of the senses is paramount. They are used to explore, to distract, to deaden, and to understand. There is a casualness to interaction with reality while each one of the two critics search for something of greater heft than booze, bumps, and blowjobs. And yet the men approach their understandings of their relationship with cinema (and with that, their own lives) from opposite perspectives, causing conflict between them, as if they were projections of the aspects of self, philosophically, Cartesian duality with stylists and prop glasses, good lighting and large language.

Life Through the Lens is not a casual comic book. It is a purposeful book for purposeful readers and I am interested to see where Olsen ends up as he pursues his ideas.
Complimenting Olsen's ideas are the ink-washed pages of Sabine ten Lohuis's art. Her work grounds this world of ideas into the world of reality as best it can, as it needs to, but in a manner that draws attention to itself in just the right amount, with an artist's hand. And ten Lohuis strikes me as an artist, and what she brings to this book is a sense of professionalism and a tempering of what otherwise could come across as the excesses of a writer impassioned with his own creation to the detriment of the creation itself.
Life Through the Lens is the kind of book that could have easily gone off the rails. It teeters on the verge of self-indulgence and snobbish masturbatory offense, but through a careful balancing act it maintains itself and ventures along the cliff with deft steps and a seemingly clear direction.

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