“A mouth-watering, dizzying feast for the eyes, characters yanked through one panel to the next, through relentless tall tales of magic and death, domestic bliss and sudden wealth”; is how publisher Breakdown Press describes the latest edition of Joe Kessler’s Windowpane. It may seem grandiose, or kind of baffling, but in this instance, it’s a fitting description.
The anthology comprises reprints of Windowpane 3 and 4, along with two new stories, a hidden short on the inside of the dust jacket, and a strip about a dog smelling things, Joe working with a characteristically elastic style throughout. “The stories, moving between fairy tales and domestic dramas, share a top-speed dedication to visual storytelling,” Breakdown Press tells It’s Nice That. “Words are used sparingly, while the main thrust of the narrative is communicated through movement and wild variations in depictions of the world.” The relatively traditional frame structure is pushed to its limits, it plays on pacing, detail and line work – as if the structure is in place in order to challenge it. And, while the sparing approach to text could be seen as underselling the complexity of each story, it comes off as a mark of confidence and knowledge of intention; getting rid of wordy “air guitar” and leaving room for the action to happen in the interactions between characters and the ways they occupy their landscape. “The insecurities of the medium too often led to thoughtful work wearing its own ‘serious’ credentials on its sleeve,” says Breakdown Press.
“The nebulous characters move through this plastic world with an exaggerated force but are quickly spun around beyond their control. Some come out clean, some filthy, and some missing a few limbs.” And Joe shows little sympathy, or judgement, for his characters; instead observing them from a distance – as if catching moments of action from his window – letting them get on with their affairs, escapes and beheadings, leaving conclusions open for the reader to make.
Printed with offset-litho, the Windowpane anthology pushes Joe’s previous riso-printed work into an even more vivid, jubilantly expressive space. “Kessler approaches these comics with colourful bravado and a disdain for continuity, while retaining a dedication to communication and narrative”, explains the press. “The internal emotional tone of the stories [is] noisily externalised onto the fluctuating stylistic approaches to drawing.”
Although made up of distinct stories, the book works equally well as a “whole”. The attention to details of production — semi-transparency of pages, juxtapositions of drawing style and colour palette, the use of the dust jacket and cover as productive spaces — contributes to the sense of Joe’s appreciation for the book as an object, an artistic form as well as in how it functions as a space for sequential narrative.
Windowpane “draws shamelessly on its influences”: “Narratively there are direct links to writers such as Robert Louis Stephenson, Marguerite Yourcenar, Yukio Mishima and Eric Newby. Visually it acknowledges influences from many of the great drawers of history, with a particular engagement with early modern Japanese printmaking and the history of comics. Artists such as Hide Kawanishi, Milt Gross, Tagawa Suiho, Jesse Marsh and many more feed into this book.” But it’s far from derivative, rather Windowpane is an example of the value of taking on a range of influences and really making use of them in driving your own work forward — it shows ingenuity, while undermining the principle that anyone works in a vacuum.
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