Spring 2015 Inbound residency
at the Chicago Publishers Resource Center
Late Spring 2015
The TRANSIT residency came at the right time. It provided a much-needed break from my basement studio, which doubles as my basement apartment, and the project I was working on was unlike anything I’d done before. CHIPRC provided me with a cozy studio next to several scone shops (by the end of the residency I left very few flavors unsampled). High on scones and tea, I drew 2 panels per day on my buggy old laptop, which at that point decided to start lagging more than ever. I took it as a sign and proceeded for the most part without the ‘undo’ button. The shortcut worked with some reluctance, usually requiring three or four attempts, but that only allowed for greater experimentation. It fitted my obsession with accidents, which became the main part of my CAKE talk on inspiration.
I spent lovely evenings talking endlessly about what I can’t remember, although I do remember listening to a detailed account of an old friend’s new parental duties, and noting to myself that I no longer find such things irritating. Hopefully, I shall continue mellowing out with age until I reach the consistency of pudding (proper pudding though, not Jell-O).
At my last host’s I found a copy of Michel Rabagliati’s Paul Moves Out, probably my favorite graphic novel, which I inexplicably didn’t own. Instead, I checked it out of the library dozens of times, read it in other people’s apartments, as if having the book readily available could somehow devalue the story. I did buy it now, at last, and read it slowly, remembering each previous reading, the panels I copied when I was trying out every possible brush and pen and failing with each one of them. After years of beating my tools into submission I can reconnect with what moved me on the very first reading–the tender, unassuming beauty of lines on paper.
For me, language, native or adopted, will always be dead on arrival. I can only approach it through further obfuscation, which makes it somewhat manageable, tame. With lines, there can be no right and wrong, they’re present in full view, almost as immediate as music. Almost! At the Chicago Art Institute I stood for ages before Mirós, Duchamps and Arps–the love and humor in their work is like a recharge for the soul. Chicago has no shortage of local living talent too: Lilli Carré, Laura Park, Nate Beaty, Anya Davidson, Edie Fake, Ivan Brunetti, someone called Chris Ware, Chris Eliopoulos, Aaron Renier, Jeremy Tinder, I could go on, but I won’t, because I’m going to use the last name as a segue into the next paragraph.
Have you seen anyone use Tinder in public? It’s a peculiar sight, particularly when the screen is not in view. The swiping motions are measured, rhythmic, like those of a Facebook feed, except for an occasional shift of direction. I eagerly await the inevitable NYT thinkpiece on Tinder tics among the future geriatrics, single finger twitching left and right, but these days mostly right. It seems to me that the understanding of context is best reached through its temporary removal. The switch from right to left (I’m not talking about Tinder anymore (or am I)) without skipping a beat is hardly a new phenomenon, but nowadays it’s easier to get away with it than ever before.
All the violence in the news lately made me imagine the end of offense, the very concept: what would happen if the potential for disagreement was cut off at the root? What if we were segregated by compatibility, determined via OkCupidish algorithms, all our views, opinions and traits extracted, analyzed and allocated immediately? If we find it reasonable to shack up based on shared taste in HBO shows and muzak, my stupid idea is not that far removed.
I envisioned an incestuous community of total agreement on everything, from haircuts to philosophy (bloated Pinkerish humanism, of course). Then the measured point becomes default for each member, the compatibility will invariably begin to drift over time, bringing with it even greater disappointment, a Ballardian dystopia in gloss.
I came to J.G.Ballard’s work somewhat late. In High-Rise, traditional dystopian dualism of before & after is hardly entertained. But it goes further: the tenants continuously watch their own acts of violence, both the victims and the perpetrators, until the difference between the two fades out of focus. The unplugged telephone is a nice detail — the disconnection was always there, now it’s only marked in a ritualistic fashion, just like the scars in Crash seem to trace the contours that had been sketched out in advance.
If dualism is to be discarded, what’s left is the middle, and this is where I place my protagonist. A place of suspension, where context loses all reality and the loops implode upon themselves, all antonyms equalized at once. The middle is the last chance of escape and the final destination, a relentless assault of the self, allowing for no comfort and no respite. The effect I wanted was that of total corruption, interspersed with patterns of repetition and reenactment, both in pictures and in words. As a relief from with these bleak concerns, I also worked on a friendly, productive kind of loop, and tested it on those who signed up for my workshop.
The Constrained Cartooning Class at CHIPRC was a success, unlike most of my previous attempts to make 10-20 people collaborate. This time I walked from artist to artist nudging them in the right direction and the resulting comic loop turned out readable and even amusing. It made me miss teaching, yes, even the faculty meetings. I suppose it’s a way of having revenge on my miserable childhood by injecting something good back into the world. I remember vividly one of my teachers standing me up in front of the class apropos of nothing and asking if anyone can think of a reason for me to exist. It wasn’t nearly the worst thing to happen yet, but it was the first, and it set the tone. I remember contemplating then my wrong ethnicity and other factors, and wholeheartedly agreeing with the implication that I shouldn’t exist. That opinion has yet to budge.
Simon Critchley links the concepts of love and impotence, he writes “what’s at the heart of the experience of love is an experience of an infinite demand, which tears me to pieces.” Perec’s Bartlebooth continues his doomed project in Life A Users Manual, embracing the futility, celebrating it even. How to carry on this celebration is another question, another loop. It’s disheartening to admit that no matter how much you invest in recovery, the force of mindless repetition will bring you to your knees with a single hint of a familiar pattern, and if reality doesn’t provide such opportunity, then nightmares will.