September 1, 2011

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SPX Spotlight: Blink: So Far... from Max Ink

This is part of Panel Patter's SPX Spotlight, a series of reviews of work from creators or publishers who will be attending SPX in 2011 leading up to the show on September 10th and 11th, 2011!

Written by Max Ink
Illustrated by Max Ink
Self-Published

If you ever doubt the power of a reviewer to sway a reader's preferences, consider this book. Blink caught my eye because of its Joni Mitchell cover homage. But I ended up taking it home because of a back cover blurb by Johanna Draper Carlson, who gave it a nice recommendation.

I'm very glad I did, because not only is Max Ink a great person to strike up a conversation with, he's also a talented cartoonist with a strong ear for the dialog of everyday life. This is an easy addition to my shortlist of books for my top ten list at the end of the year.

Blink is not a story, but a conversation--one that any adult might have with their friends. There is no firm beginning, middle, or ending. We're not given an origin story or how Blink and Sam, the two female protagonists, came to be friends. They just are. Further, I don't expect them to have a sudden crisis or start to hate each other, or anything else that gets resolved somewhere along the line.

Life doesn't work like that. Neither does Blink.

We do get an intro story for Hank, but there's nothing dramatic. We find out he has common interests with Blink (anime) and Sam (music), and before you know it, he's part of the conversation. It's smooth and natural, and just happens. It's real life right on the printed page.

Each of the ten stories in this collection work that way. We wander into the well-illustrated world of Columbus, Ohio (and I've been in Columbus a few times, so I can verify the veracity of the setting), meet our three characters for a few pages, and in the end, we've had a pleasant chat. It might be about childhood innocence or inane corporate training or maybe the kind of thoughts you can only have while staring blankly at the stars.

The tone is relaxing and comforting. Max Ink uses these opportunities to talk about the world around him, as he sees it by living an experiencing Ohio. Splitting himself into multiple characters instead of using himself, we get a book that feels just a bit autobiographical I think, splintered through a prism of perspectives. Blink, the title character, is even a cartoonist. It's a nice way to approach the concept, keeping Ink's work from being yet another self-published memoir.

Our three main perspectives in Blink should be familiar to you. We've all been these characters, depending on the timing and circumstances. Blink is optimistic and hopeful. She sees the good in the world. Blink will make a snowman straight out of Calvin and Hobbes and still thinks children's ghost stories are what you tell at a campfire. It's just a tad hard to believe she hangs with Sam, who never met a cute situation she's not ready to diffuse with realism. But they work together perfectly, showing both sides of the world and finding common ground in friendship. Hank is a bit harder to pin down. He's so earnest and serious--the kind of guy who always makes you think deeper than you'd planned.

Whenever I read a book like Blink, I wonder if I could be friends with these characters. When you're writing a story set in a real world, not one of fantasy or wonder, it's a tricky balance. You want to make the story interesting, but if it's false, the reader will know. The dialog is too clunky. Or maybe the circumstances are too contrived. What I liked so much about Nana is that I could see myself and my friends echoed in the cast. That's true here, too. I could--and would want to be--friends with Blink, Sam, and Hank. Foe me, that's about the highest compliment I can give to a slice-of-life comic.

I would be remiss if I didn't talk about Ink's artwork on the series. It's absolutely gorgeous. As noted in the acknowledgments, he's a fan of a lot of talented comics creators, from Eisner to Craig Thompson, and it shows. At no point is Ink's work derivative, but you can tell he's looking at what others have done and seeing how he might make it work for himself. His female leads are attractive without being exploitative. Facial expressions morph and change as needed, adding depth to the banter. Almost every panel has a detailed background in it, which gives the comic a strong grounding in reality.

You can tell that Ink takes his time to, well, ink, and it shows. I love the linework in this book, and can't wait to read more of it as he goes along. (I was already excited to see Ink show up in another anthology I'd purchased.) As we travel through time in the book itself, you can see Blink become even stronger from an artistic perspective. It's a progression I'm sure will continue as we get more Blink comics.

Blink is not going to be for everyone. It's philosophical. It wanders. It doesn't go anywhere specific--the reader is along for the ride and subject to Ink's whims. But that's exactly why I like it. This is a perfect slice of life comic, and I am glad to have it added to my collection. If you're going to be at SPX and want a story that's beautifully illustrated, thoughtfully created, and has characters you'll want to meet again and again, look no further than Blink.

If for some reason you can't make it to SPX, you can find Blink via Ink's website.