New York-based cartoonist Whit Taylor recently sent me a package of her superb wares, so let’s take them all in chronological order so you might be introduced (if you’re not already) to this unique and compelling voice who’s definitely making her presence felt on the independent/small press/self-publishing landscape. Ms. Taylor, this week’s column is all yours —
Ghost is a high-quality, squarebound, full-color little book that Taylor self-published in 2015 featuring a triptych of stories about her meeting three of her all-time heroes : Charles Darwin, Joseph Campbell, and — well, that would be telling. Suffice to say that her first two meetings help give her the fortitude necessary for the third, and that in the third she finds the inner strength to not only come to terms with some very harrowing and unpleasant experiences that have left an indelible mark upon her life, but to hopefully grow from them, as well. This is by no means an “easy” read, but it’s a compelling one, and there is a very real sense that it was important, even crucial, for the cartoonist to relate her personal truth to her audience in a soul-baring and courageous manner like this.
Parsing out her narrative into three distinct segments was a wise storytelling choice, but even more wise was her decision to give readers a bit of a “breather” by including two short “stand-alone” strips between segments one and two and two and three, respectively, that feature entirely different characters and scenarios but dovetail, and consequently resonate, with some of the same emotional “beats” as the main story, and her clean, smooth line and mostly-borderless panels give the proceedings an uninterrupted visual “flow” throughout. This is some brave stuff indeed, and left me feeling pretty well floored, truth be told.
Wallpaper is an experimental mini Taylor self-published in 2016 that tells what I’m assuming to be an autobiographical story from her childhood, about a period in which her parents purchased a “fixer-upper” at roughly the same time her grandmother’s health was failing. Eschewing the traditional comics page in favor of short-form prose vignettes juxtaposed alongside single-panel “splash” pages featuring wallpaper patterns, textured surfaces, even a pile of leaves, the net result is a kind of emotional diary that weaves together a disjointed set of sometimes-oblique memories with the surface trappings of the places where they happened. If you’ve ever been to a place that reminds you of something or somewhere from your youth, then you’ll know the feeling conjured by this remarkable short-form work. There is pain and magic in equal measure in these pages.
2016 also saw the release of The Anthropologists, a stand-alone comic published by Sparkplug Books that is also either straight autobio, or extrapolated from personal experience. This one takes us back to Taylor’s college days, when she and a fellow student traversed the outback of Western Australia with a local guide/sponsor, and relates their experiences interacting with members of the aboriginal population. Again, the emphasis here is more on emotional, rather than specific, memories, and while there is a bit of a “clash of cultures” theme to the story, really the narrative focus is more on finding a place, for a time, in a part of the world where you clearly don’t have one. I’ve actually been to (or near, at any rate) the location where this comic takes place during my own six-month Australian “walkabout,” so this brought a shit-ton of memories flooding back to me, but even if you’ve never been “Down Under,” you will be both charmed and haunted by this subtle-yet-powerful story. Drawn with a real sense of immediacy that expertly utilizes shading and Chester Brown-style cross-hatching to great effect, this is one of those books that puts you “right there” when events were taking place, even as it looks back on them with an almost-wistful eye.
Last, but by no means least, we come to 2017’s Fizzle #1, the first in what I’m figuring (or maybe that’s just hoping?) to be a semi-regular ongoing self-published series that sees Taylor turning her sharp observational skills outward and chronicling the life of an L.A. “twentysomething” named Claire, who is under-valued both at work (she has a gig at an incompetently-run tea shop) and at home (her boyfriend Aaron being something of an adolescent-in-perpetuity). At first glance this would appear to be the sort of material we’ve seen from any number of “indie” cartoonists in the past, but there is an understated emotional complexity to this book that gives even the most seemingly-mundane scenes a depth and resonance that are far too hard to come by in other comics focused on roughly this same demographic — and again, a legitimately wistful air permeates throughout, aided in no small part by a sympathetic artist’s eye that seems to tease out the most important parts in every facial expression or quirk of body language. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, the yellow paper she’s printed this on really works for this material, as well. I definitely feel like Taylor is building toward something special here, in the same way you could sense it early on with Ethan Rilly’s Pope Hats. Take your time with this one, Whit, but we definitely want more!
For those wishing to explore Taylor’s work further, Rosarium Press has just recently collected Ghost and Wallpaper, together with a third story, in volume entitled Ghost Stories. Details about this book, and much more besides, can be found at the cartoonist’s website, https://www.whittaylorcomics.com/comics.html
And that’ll about do it for this week — next time up we’ve got new stuff from our old friend Brian Canini, as well as Seattle cartoonist Kalen Knowles, both of whom have sent me books in recent days. Hope to see you back here in seven!