Placing itself at the conceptual and philosophical intersection of comics and the works of art in other mediums (as well as the artists themselves) that inspire them, the quarterly “solo anthology” or “mini-monograph” series Ley Lines, a joint publication effort of Grindstone Comics and Czap Books, boasts a wider-than-it-sounds editorial remit, a “murderer’s row” of cartooning talent, and production values to match, each issue being approximately 1/3 (or so) the size of a standard comic book, riso-printed on high-quality paper with unique color schemes designed to match and, by extension, amplify the tone and tenor of the material on offer. Before the calendar flips yet again, I think it would behoove us to have a look back at the four installments of this remarkable title that came our way in 2018 —
Jia Sung’s Skin To Skin (Ley Lines #14) is visual and verbal poetry of the absolute highest order, weaving a tale of sisterhood, transformation, and loss within the loose framework of the Madame White Snake folktale as interpreted by Cuban painter Belkis Ayon. This is a book of few words, but those words are chosen with care and with an eye toward maximum emotional impact, while the illustrations, tasked with most of the “heavy lifting,” somehow feel light as a feather, transient as a summer cloud. This is the definition of “remarkable stuff,” harrowing work couched, perhaps I’d even go so far as to say disguised, as a lush, dreamlike mediation that nonchalantly enters the back of your mind, burrows its way forward, and then refuses to let go of its berth for days. Expect to see these images play out in succession whenever you close your eyes — maybe even when they’re still open — as your subconscious challenges you to unpack their meaning, their message, their essential character. Sung excels at this sort of thing, of course, but here she is in full flower — and that flower is blooming with energy, intent, and silently visceral determination. One of those rare comics whose full impact is undeniable on first reading, but only well and truly felt and absorbed through repeated exposure and, crucially, exploration. I’m. In. Fucking. Awe.
Oliver East’s Langeweile (Ley Lines #15), a more formal “tone poem” exercise, creates (and subsequently adheres to) a tempo and a pentameter that grounds its story about “everything and nothing” in a space where only the kind of loose-form visuals employed herein, that communicate unfathomably deep meaning with a minimum of pen and brush strokes, can possibly work — and as a result its ambitious goal of providing a “proof positive” argument for Martin Heidegger’s theory of “profound boredom” is met with flying colors. What goes through one’s mind on a circular trip around and through an airport? How can these thoughts be presented and relayed in each of perception’s three stages of retention, immediate present, and protention? As with many an airplane flight, your mileage with this one may vary, but I found it a profound and contemplative piece that took me a hell of a long way — even though I never left my favorite reading chair.
L. Nichols’ Recapitulation (Ley Lines #16) is one of the most earnest and provocative stories about coming back home I’ve read in quite some time — only “home” here is not a place, but the work of a composer. Growing up, Nichols admired the incomparable Ludwig van Beethoven, and was determined to master playing his most complex sonatas, but drifted away as a teenager toward more contemporary music — until that old itch for “Ludwig van” (you knew a reference to A Clockwork Orange was inevitable here, right?) demanded to be scratched again. This time, though? Nichols’ time away, and exposure to new forms of music and ways of thinking, inculcated within him not only a new and deeper appreciation for his past and future favorite composer, but an entirely different, and more considered, way to both interpret and approach his truly timeless work. Illustrated in a style that appears “slapdash” but actually scales numerous levels of tremendous complexity, this is a comic that succeeds in being both entirely organic and exactingly precise simultaneously. If it actually were a piano recital, it would receive a standing ovation.
Whit Taylor’s Smile (Ley Lines #17) is the closest thing to a traditional narrative of the bunch here, and it’s an absolute and unequivocal triumph. A multi-layered work of short-form memoir that weaves the (supposed) backstory behind Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa in with learning about him for the first time by way of legendary children’s book author/illustrator Tomie dePaola in preparation for her role in an elementary school play, this is Taylor’s trademark humane and heartfelt approach firing on all cylinders — and an absolute joy to both read and to look at, as her naturalistic, unforced cartooning style has never been better than it is in these pages. In no way cold and lonely, this is a warm, real, lovely work of art. My sincere apologies, Mr. Cole.
At six bucks apiece, these books are an absolute steal, and with the Ley Lines project getting more broad in terms of scope and ambition with each passing year, I can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store. For now, though, you’d do well to close out this year (as we’re doing here, since this will be the final Round-Up column of 2018 — Happy New Year, one and all!) by picking any — or, better yet, all — of these up at http://leylines.storenvy.com/