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Windowpane is a fully risographed, two-volume collection of UK-artist Joe Kessler‘s short comics and illustrations from 2012 and 2013, published by London’s Breakdown Press. A lyrical exploration of emotion, environment, color, space, and craft, Windowpane takes the form of an art object disguised as a comic book disguised as series of visual/narrative explorations disguised as an art object.

joe31_webwindowpane2coverWindowpane 1 & 2 by Joe Kessler, published by Breakdown Press

The stories within both volumes of Windowpane are fragmented and exquisite, connected loosely via a few reoccurring visuals and thematic elements, such as a dominant architecture mixed with an irradiant but submissive nature, the dance between the rigid and loose, the confident and the insecure. Even Kessler’s stylistic decisions compete or play with each other, as some of the sequences throughout have been meticulously thought-out and labored over, others appear more slapdash in nature.

CCF12262013_00001An excerpt from a story in Windowpane #1

The single most unifying feature of Windowpane is then the risograph printing-process, a machine which is most similar to a photo-copier except it only prints one color at a time. With its limited but vibrant color palette, the carefully (but not perfectly) registered layers, and a translucent, screenprinted-like appearance, the result is a machine-made booklet with the imperfections and the affection of the human hand.

A mixture of bold and fine marks compliment Kessler’s placement of color, which is often repeated and re-arranged in ways to better breakdown and understand the narrative. The geometry of his pages help instill harmony and balance when the narrative becomes too conceptual or disjointed, and it instills tension when the narrative gets too easy.

CCF12262013_00005An excerpt from a story in Windowpane #2

While the work in both volumes of Windowpane is overall uniquely attractive and aesthetically pleasing, in regards to story-telling, the second volume trumps the first. This is in part due to Kessler’s sense of pacing and use of mark-making becoming more cohesive and defined, but also because his character-development improve tremendously. In the first volume almost all characters are very simple and blank in their appearance. Their thoughts and dialogue are interesting, but their facial expressions and body language are too rigid or strained to seem natural.  I think Joe probably recognized this in his work, as he injected new life into the diverse cast of characters in Volume 2, putting the disgust, fear, anger, sympathy, and desire back into their spirits.

CCF12262013_00003An excerpt from a story in Windowpane #2

A decent amount of the narratives in both volumes are intricate gags or poetic and philosophical meanderings, but the most emotionally engaging ones for me were those done in collaboration with Reuben Mwaura, who wrote the narratives based on his own personal experience. In these two stories, one of which appears in each volume, we revisit Reuben’s childhood living in various impoverished and dangerous situations. From his mother’s criminal boyfriend burning down their house while he and his brother were locked inside, to a compassionate look into his mother’s time as a prostitute, Reuben’s narrative combined with Kessler’s pacing of abstract and figurative imagery matches harmoniously in their emotional tone and dramatic timing.

CCF12262013_00004An excerpt from ‘After the Fire’ in Windowpane #2

Another favorite narrative was “Suit Suite” from the second volume. Done in collaboration with Elliott Batten, it involves a playful romp around the town in the form of an empty tuxedo-suit that can do just about anything. The text is solemn and contemplative while the imagery is light-hearted and joyful. Kessler and Batten even experiment with a bit of collage, using their own self-portrait cut-outs as amusing props within the narrative. CCF12262013_00006An excerpt from ‘Suit Suite’ in Windowpane #2

As prolific as he is, I can only assume that Joe Kessler will successfully continue down his path of narrative, artistic, and cinematic exploration, in an attempt to better master the different elements of his creative language in which we are all invited to take part in and understand.

CCF12262013_00002An excerpt from a comic in Windowpane #1

Bottom Line: If you enjoy an exploration and mixture of fine art, printmaking, sequential narrative, philosophical thought, humor, drama, and poetry in your comics, I highly recommend checking out Joe Kessler’s Windowpane 1 and 2.

-LVW

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On your Marks is a short-comics anthology edited by Max Clotfelter and presented by Seattle’s Short Run Festival (this issue debuted at its 3rd annual fest in November), an event which was founded (as noted in the back of the comic) to “strengthen and celebrate Seattle’s lauded small press community…[to] spotlight artists and self-publishers who lack exposure and provide them with helpful resources”.

il_570xN.542829659_95uvOn Your Marks #1 – Cover by Chris Cilla

With around 30 one-page comics by different artists from the Pacific Northwest, On your Marks is indeed a great introduction to this regional niche of the indie-comics community. Not unlike other anthologies of the alt-comix-sphere, it acts as a sampler for one to get a small taste of each artist, as well as a taste of the region’s own particular aesthetic and influence. As someone who’s main impressions of the Northwest are pine trees, flannel, and the suspicion that life might be a lot less hectic and cluttered than the life of the average New Yorker (but I mean, what isn’t), I wondered if this anthology would open my eyes to a whole new vision of the Pacific Northwest I clearly wasn’t seeing, and should very much pay attention to.

CCF12242013_00002Excerpt from Eroyn Franklin’s untitled piece in On Your Marks

The short answer is not really, but still pay attention. While the bulk of the comics in this anthology didn’t push many boundaries for me, there was still a plentiful amount of enjoyable material. Stylistically cartoonish, often grotesque and psychedelic imagery dominated many of the gag comics, while stylistically literal, more poetic or introspective narratives filled the gaps, I found the work relatively easy to take in.  Maybe this is because it read so much like the 90s alt-comix I enjoyed as a kid (like for instance, Fantagraphics’ Spice Capades, edited by Queen Itchie with a cover by Peter Bagge, or Action Girl, edited by Sarah Dyer), I feel like On Your Marks is a comic anthology that even a kid can enjoy (albeit, a weird kid with a morbid sense of humor). But as they say, comics ain’t just for adults anymore!

CCF12242013_00003Excerpt from Max Clotfelter’s Randy & Travis comic in On Your Marks

The comics that didn’t impress were those that either seemed incomplete as a one-pager (a few), or those in which the gags fell flat (more than a few). But as is the joy of the one-pager anthology, if a comic isn’t doing it for ya, simply move on to the next. The comics that I enjoyed best were those that had complete story arcs, well-developed characters, surreal happenings, and an obscure sense of humor (yes, all in one page), such as Tom Van Deusen‘s Herman & Lucy, about best friends Herman (a “cool” dog) and Lucy (a goose), who buy a new house that comes with an absurd roof ornament (a gigantic head that makes grotesque noises and whimpers), Julia Gfrörer‘s Spirit Hand, about a brush with the occult that is humorously unacknowledged, Rick Altergott & Pat Moriarty‘s “Slugger & “Tuffy”, a look into the antics of two conniving cat pals (any cat-owner will appreciate this one), Darin Shuler’s untitled piece about a misunderstood Shaman (the cat-owners might not appreciate this one), Eroyn Franklin‘s untitled piece that starts with getting ringworm and ends with getting naked, and Max Clotfelter’s “Randy & Travis” adventure, another gag comic in which older brother Randy beats younger brother Travis to the punch (literally). These comics and others were enough to make me keep turning the pages to see where the next comic short would take me.

CCF12242013_00001 Excerpt from Darin Shulers’ untitled piece in On Your Marks

Overall, the work was good fun. At worst, it didn’t do much for me. At best, well, at best I probably giggled. Not one thing left a bad taste in my mouth, which is quite a feat in my opinion. Editorially speaking, Max did a great job. My only suggestion for the future would be to make the table of contents a little easier to read, and to number the pages– that or make all artists sign their work. I honestly couldn’t tell who did what for a few pages, in particular because I was only familiar with a few of the contributing artists to begin with. And hey — now I know a few more cool comic artists to check out, and maybe pick up a zine from. Ain’t that the point of the antho?

CCI00003Excerpt from Julia Gfrörer’s piece, ‘Spirit Hand’, in On Your Marks

Bottom Line: If you dug the alt-comix scene of the ’90s, or just want to know what’s up in the Pacific Northwest these days, get yourself a copy of On Your Marks. At $4, you won’t be disappointed.

-LVW