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.
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.
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.
An 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.
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.
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. An 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.
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.