June 11, 2015

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Inaction Comics 1 Productivity


Written and Illustrated by Kimball Anderson, Klara Grancicova, Susie Oh, Alyssa Berg, MJ Robinon, L. Nichols, LB Lee, Kelsea Rain, Andrew White, Laurel Lynn Leake, Paul K. Tunis, and Cathy G. Johnson
Edited by Kimball Anderson
Self-Published by Kimball Anderson

In a world where keeping constantly busy and proving you've used your time effectively and efficiently--even your leisure time--it can sometimes be hard to appreciate those moments when we aren't doing stuff and things. It's those smaller pieces of time that are explored here in an anthology that has a specific theme but allows for wide interpretation and abstraction.

Editor Kimball Anderson, who also contributes some of the pages, wanted to make a themed anthology where the stories linked by not being strictly linked. Anderson calls it "an exploration of a single idea" and yet also "A single story, in a way," and that seems very apt. By clever placement of the entries, spreading creators' thoughts and ideas across the anthology instead of chronologically, there's an ebb and flow that feels at once intentional and yet accidental. It helps that much of the art is very raw and primal, refusing to be tight and polished. There's pencil roughs, lines that flow overtop of each other, and coloring that isn't perfectly aligned with the text or art. It gives the book a very stream of consciousness style, even though you might go from thin lines and watercolors on one page to heavy black inks on the next.


The downside to this approach is that it's harder to get an appreciation for the individual artists. They're working almost as a collective art jam, and while there are clear beginnings and endings, Anderson is a bit ambiguous on who is drawing what and where. The credits at the end have small thumbnails associated with each creator, but with the exception of those who sign their pages (like Andrew White) or those who I recognize clearly and easily (Anderson's thumbnails and larger art are easy to spot, for example, as is Laurel Lynn Leake's) it's difficult to parse out the differences and hurt my enjoyment of the work somewhat. I get the idea of keeping to the idea of one larger story, but when I read an anthology, I like to know who is doing what and where. Flipping back and forth hurt the impact of the work itself, and while that's partly on me as the reader--I could have chosen to just go with the flow--I really like to know who my artists are when I engaged with a work.

That aside, this is a wonderful, philosophical comic. It's not going to be for people who like firmly structured art or action or characters. The various creators are thinking out loud on the page about the theme, and approach it in a great many different ways. Some, like Anderson, work in a mixture of traditional conversation with images that aren't necessarily tied strictly to the text. In other areas, we see shapes that surround prose poetry. Leake's first contribution is more traditionally structured, with a central figure who moves along to the text while the second is more of set of lines with a bit of imagery in the background. LB Lee has a page that would be at home in any autobiographical diary comic. Cathy G. Johnson's contributions are breather images in the form of abstracts, not unlike what's featured on the cover, also by Johnson.


It's a bit difficult for me to write about the art here, because it's not meant to be endlessly analyzed, looking for subtleties or page layouts or character designs. The art is designed to invoke a mood, one that gets your brain wandering. When I was reading--and again, this is a personal reaction--I found myself stopping to think about what was being written by each person. How did I react to their words? What did it mean when a person opted to go into traditional grid panels but not stay within their lines? Why was the text handwritten across the art? (This was MJ Robinson's section, if I read the thumbnails correctly.) Andrew White also uses panels, but in a more controlled manner, structuring the reader's eye as they "walk" across the page and follow his meditations. There's repetition and focus by both creators, but done in such different ways. It's a perfect example of Anderson's idea of a story that's linked and yet very disparate.

The section that resonated with me most strongly was from L. Nichols. I've talked before (I think) about how Nichols' work really taps into personal feelings of my own, and this is no exception. Here she shows what it's like to be thinking about your progress constantly, something I do all the time. The images aren't so much about the progress, but about the little things that make up the doing. As we see the protagonist head to bed, still thinking of what they can and need to do, and those thoughts are the same day by day, it's a warning and a caution about how we approach each day.

Not that I've listened well after reading, mind you.

Overall, while my personal ability to meditate is basically zero, I came away form Inaction Comics 1 feeling like this is a book that has that vibe about it. It's not comics in the way we tend to think of them. Just like how a meditation should follow a personal path, bouncing in the land of free thought and ideas, these comics that make up the anthology don't hold to conventions--nor are they trying, necessarily, to break them. They are there to be a starting point, a jumping off point for exploration on your own time. The words and images are there to aid you on a journey that beings with the first turn of the page and ends only when you decide to let it. It's a very different comics reading experience, one that came away from feeling relaxed, which seems rather appropriate. I'll definitely be looking forward to seeing what Anderson's next anthology project is, and whether it follows this same pattern or adjusts based on the subject. Either way, I expect it will be thought provoking and well worth the time to read.

You can get a copy of Inaction Comics 1 here.