January 22, 2015

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Nobrow 9: It's All So Quiet Shows off Comcs-as-Art


Nobrow 9: It's All So Quiet
Written and Illustrated by Various Creators
Published by Nobrow 

It's not often you see a flip book that's got a cardstock cover and is roughly 9x12 in size, but then again, Nobrow isn't your typical publisher. Split roughly in half between illustrations on one end and then, flipping things over, a series of wordless comics on the other, there's definitely a lot to look at.

When I was reading Nobrow 9, I was reminded of Fantagraphic's Blab, which was based on a similar concept but took things in a different direction. This was much more controlled and refined, whereas Blab always felt like it was controlled anarchy. There's definitely a variety in the styles of the artists involved, ranging from the more controlled work of someone like Jamie Coe to the more shape-focused work of Edward Carvalho Monaghan. The coloring choices here give consistency to the wordless work (as well as the single-page illustrations on the other side), sticking to purples, pinks, and navy blue as the dominant colors.

I really liked Helen Jo's "Are you there, Lucifer? It's Me Cindy" which features a woman making an offering via fire that she fears will be rejected. With thin lines, she repeats the image of the woman and her fire, over and over, with slight variations, until she gets an answer that may be her last sign ever again. Another standout was Mikkel Sommer's "The Silent Visitor," which features a strange, almost test-dummy like figure, who seduces a woman--and then her dog, in a nice bit of unexpected comedy that comes entirely from the panel pacing. Kirstin Rothbart's "Dead End" is really heartbreaking, as a woman who plays a mascot lives in a trailer, eats crappy food, and hopes to be a rock star. We learn all this panel by panel, with details packed nearly to bursting, showing her full life, which is so ordinary, as she dreams herself to sleep. Just brilliant work, and the unnatural mixing of the purples, pinks, and black space just really make it shine.

Part of Jamie Coe's story in Nobrow 9
On the illustration side, orange is added to the pink/purple mix, and my favorites here were the ones that used shapes to form familiar figures, such as the ones by Ryan Todd and Owen Davy. A great detailed piece primarily in blue and white by Roger Demuth also had me lingering over the style work. There was a lot to like, however, such as the Dali-esque Merijn Hos or the stark simplicity of Sarah Jacoby.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I got this out from the library, but honestly? For an anthology with so many short pieces in it, and half of the work being two-page spreads, the quality was extremely high. I could write this review over again, and it wouldn't surprise me if I chose to highlight a completely different set of creators from it.

This was a lovely hidden gem. It's not going to be the cup of tea for those who want a lengthy story. This, not unlike Sam Alden's work, is something that's for people who look at the artistic side of comics and what creators can do using it as a purely visual medium, taking their allotted space and palette and showing that comics have power with the words taken away. This is one I'd encourage anyone with a desire to see more of the craft of comics (and art) to pick up right away.