smoke and mold | issue 8: comics! | spring 2023
It’s difficult not to go overboard waxing enthusiastic about this issue consisting entirely of comics and comics criticism. It’s not that these six pieces can easily be overwhelmed by words, but that they are each so unique and varied in their approaches to graphic narrative that I don’t want to over-determine your reading of them beforehand. I want you to experience them in the raw.
If, however, you’re unsure where or how to begin engaging with comics as an artform, a good place to start is Tony Wei Ling’s “Beetle, Bitter, Better: Miné Okubo’s Almost-Comic Works,” which also happens to be the first piece of criticism appearing in our “pages.” (We’d love to see more come fall!)
Tony proposes two “value-lending promises” of comics and graphic stories:
(1) that they work effectively as a chart/diagram/visualization of complex info and
(2) that they vivify that data, animate it with intense inner life
I like this rubric for how expansively it imagines “data.” Tony’s data is the flattened slapstick of Miné Okubo’s drawings in Citizen 13660, her graphic almost-comic memoir about her time interned by the US government in the Topaz Relocation Center in the Utah desert during World War II. I see each piece in this issue as imbuing its own data points with inner life. Some, like Lillie J. Harris’s Wilderness, look more traditionally like comics but move back and forth between characters and perspectives in a way that presages the transformations in store. Meanwhile, in “whale fall” Mara Ramirez builds up a palimpsest of meaning via ecological and personal abstractions, where even the handwritten text isn’t safe from the pencil’s erasure.
Erasure emerges as a theme throughout Issue 8, ironic given that this is our first devoted exclusively to visual narratives. But then, maybe not. Maybe it makes sense that erasure is only possible once something has been made visible. Nothing can’t be made invisible; only presence can be wiped off the map. This begs the question of representation and the artist, and especially in our current political reality, the trans artist: How much of yourself are you willing to risk by making it visible? What is gained but also what might be lost, and at what cost?
Even from the bottom of the sea or inside a black hole throughlines can be found, connections made. It is often safer and lonelier to remain invisible. Tony writes that “comics do not always, reliably, afford their readers a stable or visceral kind of access to the other’s experience.” And so maybe this is the point, to provide an unstable, shifting platform where reading requires more obtuse flagging, but the payoff is even greater when you receive the signal.
Cal Angus, Managing Editor
The background image on this page is from Mara Ramirez's "whale fall."