Tuesday, September 5, 2017


As has become annual custom, an August delivery of material released at May's TCAF arrived via my Canadian connections. Amidst some stellar Indie standouts, Quebec-based publisher Editions Trip once again gets both of my thumbs raised well up with two standout releases, Silent Worlds by Carlos Santos and Sequences by personal surrealist fave, Stanley Wany. In addition, Montreal-based illustrator Isabelle Arsenault's debut All-Ages release, Colette's Lost Pet is another in an increasingly crowded sea of must-see kids comics and further proof that the Quebec area has cemented itself as a real comics-making hotspot. Let's take a look.

By Isabelle Arsenault
Published By Tundra Books

Newly arrived in Montreal's Mile End, little Colette is bored, friendless and her parents refuse to let her own a pet. Frustrated, Colette begins to wander her neighbourhood and quickly runs into two neighbourhood local kids, Albert and Tom. On the fly, Colette tells the boys that she's lost her pet bird. They buy her fib completely and quickly volunteer to help find it. So begins Colette's first trek around her new home, as the small gang of kids swells in numbers with each subsequent home checked. Swelling also is Isabelle's fib and her "lost pet" soon begins to take on near-mythic status. This new group of fast friends all play along, using their imaginations and Colette's quick wit to keep the hunt for this rarest of birds.

The first, I believe, in Arsenault's Mile End Kids series, Colette's Lost Pet is a beautifully illustrated and lovingly designed little book. Arsenault's characters are cheeky and sweet in all the right ways and the creator easily navigates her cast away from any tricky detours into more saccharine territory. The purpose of the series seems to be not only to champion the kids of urban environments, but also to encourage younger readers to create adventures of their own using their own surroundings as building blocks for the imagination. It's adorable.

Published By Editions Trip

Unfolding like some ultra-compressed, art comix, alien Koyaanisqatsi, Portugal-born artistCarlos Santos'Silent Worlds (first released in 2013) is page after page of strange, grotesque landscape, the human libido uncorked and environments ranging from the insectoid, to the underwater, to the urban, to even the vaginally cavernous. 

There's a distinct inky moistness to many of Santos' environs and the skull-faced, depressed little urchins that populate many of his pages range in occupation from reaper, to samurai, to office worker as Santos fires off panel after panel of rapid fire images depicting life as these beings know it, reflecting our own in the process. In an excellent, helpful afterword, Eric Bouchard elaborates on Santos' use of "infra-narration": a type of story that contains no plot or even event. Instead, the reader is reduced to observer of images, a Uatu The Watcher of this world, if you will, able to make connections wherever and however they see fit as they join Santos on his explorations of this world. This is not to say that Silent Worlds is a random assemblage. Far from it, as connections can and often will be found more often than not. Civilisations seem to sprout and evolve over a slew of pages and, at a more micro level, the book's clever wit displays itself over a mere tier of panels, such as this one, in which the joys of artful play and the breakthroughs of science are contrasted with the horror and banality of the working week routine, potentiality unlocked versus entrapment:

Connections are found then lost and then reformed elsewhere over the course of the book, randomness and coherence counterpunching endlessly. Bouchard's afterword pulls back the curtain further, revealing that Santos handed in the finished project as "...loose sheets of paper without any explicit order of creation or page numbers..." meaning that the finished product of "book-as-object" I hold in my hands is, ironically, possibly more an editorially-driven product than some of the mainstream comics I constantly refrain from complaining about here. Also, this means that you and I are free to open the book and read whichever sequence of pages we choose as, realistically, this "finished" page order has been forced upon us. I'm curious to re-read as soon as I'm able and wonder what multiplicities of shifting themes, motifs and images I'm likely to find and puzzle over. Plunging even deeper, Bouchard again suggests that the ultimate expression of Silent Worlds would be as a four-dimensional object, a Rubik’s Cube for instance, with images and connections potentially ephemeral and once off as dictated by the turning of the device. 

The mind boggles at the possibilities here, but Silent Worlds feels like an important work to me, at the very least on thecomics construction front, and anyone interested in getting more out of their structure either as reader or creator should hunt down one of the 100-edition print run post-haste as there is literally hours and hours of reading to be found within. Unfortunately, I have missed out on Santos' follow up, debuting at this year's festival, Small Worlds, and I can only wonder how far the artist has managed to develop this fascinating comics experiment.
A must have.

By Stanley Wany
Published By Editions Trip

Sequences is the final volume in a loose trilogy of comics, begun with Agalma and followed up by Dream Cave, that artist Stanley Wany created during the long, strange, sleepless nights experienced as an insomniac. Wany's near majestic collages of images, rich in archetype,are once again on display here exploding out of rigidly-controlled sequences of four panels per page, proving that insomnia may not be pleasant, but it can open up heightened creative states. Wany has become my own personal TCAF go-to (he launches a book per year) as there is no other creator working in the medium producing work like this, so dreamily meandering and beautiful, richly mining the stuff of the subconscious. 

Sequences features a character named Jonah who realises he has wasted ten precious years working in a call centre. Catching up with an old friend to drink and vent, Jonah soon finds the world shifting in hallucinatory ways around him. A whale appears, down Jonah tumbles and a biblical parable is rewritten as an existential quest through the inner realms of hidden consciousness, during which Jonah discovers that we are more than what we appear to be, what our circumstances "allow" us to be.

Like Silent Worlds, Sequences is a comic to return to again and again, yet another showcase for an artist whose sleeplessness allows him access to what appears to be a creative process of waking dream, translated beautifully onto the comics page. It is, like all of Wany's work, really worth the time and effort it may take to track down.

See you in a few weeks. Love your comics.

Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you'll likely never read. He's the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory (www.thecrimefactory.com). You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.

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