Let's be honest. Here in the middle of 2014 it's hard to write a review about a comic book with words like "chiaroscuro", "Kafkaesque", "meta-textual", and "vexing" without coming off as some sort of pretentious thesaurus thumbing ponce. I shudder at the thought of such a misreading, but I am inescapably drawn to these very words when consideringDepartment of Art #1 by Dunja Jankovic.
Jankovic is an artist first, beyond any other consideration of her abilities as a cartoonist or storyteller. Her pages and panels flow in an out of clarity – her lines tighten and release – her characters morph yet retain identity --- her mazes lead back to themselves. Jankovic's art is at war with negative space as lights and darks fight with each other for dominance. In that fight the viewer sees the beautiful choreography of chiaroscuro.
Somewhere in the grays lies yourself.
And as Jankovic abstracts she shoves us to connect. Department of Art is about creation, it is about the search for purpose, the search for self – but Jankovic places her thematic gist into a world suffused with Kafkaesque uncertainty, as if what is around the corner is the expected unexpected. Passageways are clearly marked in a language you do not speak, and yet as we've all waited in these foyers, we know what each door opens to. This is the DEPARTMENT of Art, after all.
"Do art. Let's go. Yes." A troubled creation about trouble creating is about as meta-textual as you can get without Jankovic personally reaching out of the page and shaking your hand. As the struggle with the muse, with concentration, gets more intense, the narrative strains – hanging on to clarity – but the art becomes infused with a passion and energy that tingles to the touch. Still, at moments clarity of storytelling teeters on vexing, but where confusion could easily subsume, there is a gentleness to its waves as if Jankovic has peered into all of your anxiety dreams and has left them gift wrapped under your tree of knowledge.
You read between the lines as there are so many on the page.
There's beauty in this, and as this is the first issue in a promised series, Department of Art #1 is full of promise as much as it is full of juxtapositions.