Don't you hate it when you can't decide if a piece of art is a seemingly endless slog through the miasma of gloom with no redeeming value other than an examination of the gloom itself, or whether it is life-affirming in a manner that requires some work on the part of the audience to understand this stance and thereby making it a more personal sort of experience, a connection of sorts between the artist and the art?
Joseph Remnant's latest collection, Blindspot #3, has put me in such a quandary, and I don't know whether to use my handkerchief to daub my eyes or to wave like a celebratory flag. The book contains four short tales that cloak themselves in darkness, covering either their stark nudity or their ill-fitting clown clothes. All I know is that I feel that I deserve an answer, so I keep reading this book over and over again.
The first story, "L.A. Coffee Shop" is a circular argument of smugness, where the narrator can't help judging others while others judge him. It's hipster cool warmed in an interior monologue that ponders the point of creative endeavors – but I am at a loss if it is ultimately meant to be smarmy self-confession, an ironic statement on self-importance, or an elaborate shaggy dog joke that's only funny because it's true.
Next, "Pappy Ron's Pizza" is some sort of political statement that ends where it begins with new lessons learned out of a desperate realization of inevitability. It questions notions of comfort and convenience in the guise of the journey/quest motif. Still, the ending of this can be seen as a joke if you are wearing the right prescription lenses, so it's hard to figure out if Remnant is pushing us in the mud and laughing or pushing us in the mud and crying. Is he adding weight or making light?
The third story in Blindspot #3 is "Elevator" and once again Remnant may be falling down the shaft of despair or hitting us with a punch-line looking for guffaws. This story goes dark quickly and the surreal nature of the storytelling adds unease to the tone – I felt moored in the mire in "Elevator" but Remnant refused to allow me this repose as the final splash page in this story pushes me down again. Am I supposed to laugh or am I supposed to exhale a breath of recognition and relief? Am I taking a soothing mud bath or drowning in quicksand?
Finally there's "You are Here", another journey story and one which obviously starts in a dark place then tries to climb out into the light – from the corruption of the enclosed space of the city to the openness of the hills of L.A. This is metaphor writ large, an easily digestible trope – if he reaches the top this will be indicative of progress from low to high – despair to delight – a positive sentiment, a happy ending. So yea, there's that. Right? But it's not that simple in Remnant's telling. There's this in-between space at the end of this story – in the shade, under a tree – that is limited by time, "At least for now," which casts its shadows turning brightness to gray.
So do I make my own judgments as to message and meaning and intent? Is this what art is all about? Do I read the text as the text reads me?
Still, throughout all this straddling, Remnant show his chops as a draftsman, cartoonist, and artist. His work continues to grow more detailed and emotive with each new publication he releases. He obviously understands how panels can set pacing, and knows how to best use the turn of a page for impact.
Joseph Remnant is slowly becoming one of my favorite creators working in comics today.
I just wish he would stop fucking with me.
You can pick up Blindspot #3 from Remanant's own page.