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On Hiatus | Pete Toms | Study Group
Pete Toms’s On Hiatus is a television star’s fall from grace in a culture of celebrity obsession, irony and an inability to turn away, and there’s something in it that’s ultimately revealing of what’s around us, even if this comic plays up the tragedy in progress. At times it certainly is incomprehensible and overwhelming, but so is frustration. I feel like Toms has been carrying this bug with him for a while, and Hiatus is finally the chance to air out what no one’s let him say.
Though the comic doesn’t read like something eager to confess. On Hiatus takes the podium like a parent without a choice. It’s there to because we need it to be, otherwise we’ll drown ourselves in each other’s blood for the sake of some uncontrollable urge. That’s definitely a colorful, barely-makes-sense description of a web comic, but those are the words On Hiatus places in my skull. It’s a work you must react to viscerally, later picking a part its apparatus. Because Toms comes at you with a mix of anger-induced, comical self-defeat from the go, and even though that’s potentially heavy, it’s easily refreshing both for its honesty, but its willingness to be such a way.
I hate cute (unless a puppy’s involved), and comics can seem over run with it, at times. Especially in the alternative/art circle. Or it’s pornographic/abstract/momentary. I can admire that stuff, but it does blend together after a while, and the network of this game bares a lot of it for the sake of being supportive. So aggression, though arguably surface, is effective in the case of Hiatus because so many other comics retract tooth and nail to be … safe? I don’t know. Even the porn stuff feels acceptable (because it’s celebrated).
But this isn’t celebrating anything. It even seems to piss on the notion of line art telling the story. Hiatus is decorated in dialogue, spewing conspiracies that both fit the character of Harry Malloy and sound of a consider author’s cyclical thoughts now finding space. Word balloons eat this thing at times, but you don’t care because the voice inside them, though a bit crazed, is secretly the same voice you’ve filed away in the back of your head, only to be awoken on Doomsday.
It’s static in its page construction (consistently mining a very technical grid), but Toms uses color as a timing device to create movement. See the image above as an example, and notice how the background in each panel fades from off-white to deep pink. That’s Toms directing his white space and giving it a role. Some real Ridley Scott fog/mist shit. A small trick that does so much. One could argue Hiatus is entirely about color, using it as a barometer, but also as a way to transform the noise into something visual, without being violent.
I know I haven’t been specific, but it’s tough to be with a comic like this. You read it and just clap because it’s hitting something inside you that’s forgotten. Maybe it’s hyperbolic to type this, but On Hiatus will likely be my favorite comic this year. It’s what my little heart was looking for. There’s something of it that’s oddly kindred.
Fish | Bianca Bagnarelli | Nobrow Press
Zainab Akhtar wrote it best. Fish “is neither answer nor question, but existent in its complexity and subtlety.” It’s a comic dealing with the obviously unanswerable truth of death, and doesn’t attempt to conclude on anything. It just finds a means to probe our natural curiosities while falling back on something more knowable. Like the perspective of a child.
At first, it was the length and package I fell for. Bianca Bagnarelli, an Italian cartoonist, takes Nobrow Press’s 17 x 23 series and shapes a polished 7″ single from the concept of “do whatever the fuck you want.” Others may have used the opportunity to push another anthology on us, packing pages with whatever, but Fish reads with a completeness often found in sizable graphic novels published by the likes of Pantheon.
Forget the lengthy scenes and repetition, though. This comic only has so much room to suggest its concerns, and Bagnarelli finds smart ways to do so while still holding onto a sparse mode of verbal communication. It’s in the shots she designs. The ‘camera’ wanders in Fish from characters to the items/occurrences surrounding them, leering in on things like dead flowers. It does so for the cause of motif, but to also buffer the notion of perspective. Because Bagnarelli gives attention to the sites Milo (the main character) absorbs, so that you see these things both, knowingly, through his eyes and your own, all at once.
Fish also offers these beats where you’re forced to apologize for (or even congratulate) a child’s point of view. It does so notably, in the later half of the comic, where Bagnarelli’s camera rests on Milo’s grandfather studying him across the dinner table. It’s a sudden, quickly-cut frame, but it’s powerful because of the look she draws into that grandfather’s eyes. You can see both admiration and pity in there, and it’s the lone adult perspective in the piece to really emphasize the quiet tragedy of being a kid.
Fish is undoubtedly thoughtful throughout its run time, but that last page is a solid ‘fuck it.’ It’s the one note in the song where we accept the mystery because ultimately we’re all in the same boat. Someone will lift you up at the end (I hope). And if not, we’ll go down together, all of us organs inside a body. Old and young, not knowing anything.
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It’s 82 degrees in my room, so I didn’t wear a shirt while writing this. Just wanted to let you know. Next week, I take it to the streets and offer up my palms. Will you accept them?
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