cold the vacancy
the phantoms are gone and the shaken realist
is drug. Powerful. Hallucinatory. Its psychoactive effects can lead
you to underestimate the consequences of venturing into uncharted
territory. To a place you don't belong. A place fraught with danger.
“There” not “Here”. Outside. Through the hole in the fence.
Into the woods.
we are not built to be alone. The solitary man is no man at all. A
life of quiet contemplation is no life really. Being alive requires
us to step forth into the world of others. Shared experiences are
more real somehow.
I was 21, I made a road trip from New York to Texas. Along the way I
stopped in Memphis and took the tour of Graceland. As I wandered
around Elvis' mansion, my sense of self began to bend in ways it had
never bent before. By the time I made it to the Jungle Room, my brain
was so filled with an internal dialogue composed of a thick, viscous
gibberish that I began to eye all the exit routes, convinced that I
would need to flee before it got any worse. If only I had someone I
could trust next to me, someone to whom I could have whispered, “Can
you believe this?” I could have made sense of the experience, I
could have reveled in the weirdness. Alone, I was bent. With a buddy,
I would have been King.
am I telling this story?
Press has just recently published Jen Lee's Vacancy as part of
their 17x23 series, and this beautiful book has me thinking about
solitude and experience. It's these ideas that provide the backdrop
for an amazingly dense story told through character and inference.
solicitation for Vacancy
reads, “In a
dishevelled and ransacked backyard, a dog named Simon has been
forgotten by his owners. Simon contemplates breaking free and
eventually partners up with a raccoon and a deer who take him into
the woods. But Simon realizes he is not quite ready to live in the
Lee's telling, though, there is a larger background to this seemingly
“grass is always greener” story that has to do with
anthropomorphic animals, crashed planes, destroyed spaces, quarantine
areas, and questions like “Don't you remember what happened to
Randall?” Much like her webcomic, Thunderpaw, there is this sense that something apocalyptic has happened, leaving
the animals changed, leaving them to fend for themselves, leaving
them unsure of what the rules are now. And, like in Thunderpaw,
Vacancy revolves around the need for companionship in
navigating this new world.
a beautiful book both in terms of its storytelling and well as its
craft. Lee's use of color is breathtaking, especially her use of
sunset and sunrise soft reds and pinks to capture atmosphere, tone,
and mood, especially when juxtaposed with the blue-greens of her
nights and the momentary stark, flat white of her days. In the 24
pages of Vacancy, things crackle when they should, quiet when
you need to hear the whispers, and bleed when something is after you.
Lee's cartooning seduces you into one set of emotions – comfortable and familiar in a Saturday Morning sort of way – while
the story itself murmurs something strange off to the side, almost
hidden in the forest.
main character is hoodie wearing, bespectacled dog. Simon cannot
function in isolation. Upon hearing howls from the woods outside his
fenced yard, he dreams of marking “trees with you soon, my yote
brothers.” But he just doesn't have the capacity or the
wherewithal to venture forth alone from his enclosure, his home. He
takes the random opportunity of strangers in his midst to step out
into a new world; he needs guides to show him the ropes of this
his pathfinders are seemingly little help when it comes to navigating
the dangers of the woods. Rather, as the monomyth trope demands, they
teach him the value of something more meaningful, the powerful
sense-making systems of community, the understanding that we are all
that much more capable when we stand together as one.
world-building is as dynamic a character as her anthropomorphic
heroes. As her trio journeys, the environment they discover and cross
through develops and, in doing so, tells a secondary story of
destruction and despair. Through inference, reading the signposts
that Lee has put up in this world, the audience begins to glean what
may have happened to Simon's family and why these animals dress and
behave as they do. And it is in these conjectures that the reader
begins to unfurl a terrible backstory that they, themselves, own.
gives this comic its heft and its power. Which serves as a dialogue
between artist and viewer. Which makes the reading of Vacancy
such a pleasure and provides a small communal event therein.
experience of Vacancy is one that fills the gap and suffuses
the emptiness that its title suggests. It peers through the hole in
our fence and fills our minds with the possibilities of what might be
on the other side.
can purchase a copy of Vacancy from Nobrow Press directly by