I’ve really been digging Elise Dietrich’s self-published minis lately, and it’s not hard to see why : meticulous in her attention to detail and determined to pack as many visual “goodies” into every panel as possible, her cartooning nevertheless seems to easily dodge the pitfalls of rigid formality and instead expresses itself as a kind of fluid, nearly spontaneous, quiet series of expertly-communicated mediations on the little things that make life — well, life, I guess. Which probably seems like a counter-intuitive thing for me to say given that in last year’s small diary comics collection, Making Time, she adheres fairly strictly to four-panel grids, hits a requisite narrative “beat” in the middle of each strip, and generally ends ’em all on something that could at least be loosely interpreted as a “punch line.” But there you go — comics, especially good comics, can be kinda weird like that.
And let there be no doubt that this is a very good comic indeed : unassuming, gently contemplative, and perfectly capturing the flavor and nuance of winter in Vermont, these strips — drawn between November and February of last year and originally posted on the artist’s Instagram page — feature plenty of struggles with the elements, sure, but Dietrich also “makes time” for parenting, exercise, drawing (duh), and winter-centric activities like knitting. Hell, a brief examination of Brazilian politics even makes its way into these pages, so it’s probably fair to say that you only think you know what to expect from this admittedly, and quite deliberately, modest little number.
Don’t let that modesty lull you into thinking there’s not a fair amount of “eye candy” to be had here, though — Dietrich is big on detail and seems to genuinely enjoy stuffing her panels to the gills with crisp linework, lots of cross-hatching, and a hell of a lot of visual information for your money. No one elements rises to the fore at the expense of others, though, and the end result is skillful illustration that more often than not feels like a delicate balancing act has been achieved, whether by design or happy accident, between any number of metaphorical “ingredients,” all coming together to make one of those comforting winter drinks, albeit one with maybe a little kick of something snuck into it from under the bar.
Calling this a “heartwarming” collection isn’t entirely false, then, but it’s not in any way syrupy, sugar-coated, or — Christ almighty, can you tell I’m on a diet and have food on my mind? It’s torture, I’m telling you, complete and utter torture — but fortunately, Dietrich’s comic is anything but, and while I confess to being something of a “newbie” to her work, her line appears to be getting more confident and individualistic with each release, and ditto for her sense of timing, so I guess what I’m getting at is : I hope she’s doing more diary strips this winter, too.
I get the distinct feeling — though I could be wrong — that Dietrich was a writer before she was an illustrator, because when one follows the trajectory of her career-to-date, one sees a nearly “fully-formed” author from the outset, but one that needed to “warm up to” the unique demands of marrying words with pictures in a completely unified fashion. Now that she’s done that, though, the sky well and truly appears to be the limit.
Okay, fair enough, it’s kind of a chilly, gray, overcast winter sky — but that doesn’t mean there’s not a hell of a lot of interesting stuff happening beneath it, a fairly generous sampling of which is related in this absolutely charming, naturalistic, at times even compelling little gem of a comic.
Making Time is available for $6.00 from Elise Dietrich’s Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/EliseDietrichDesign/listing/752818725/minicomic-making-time-volume-1?share_time=1573930651968&utm_campaign=Share&utm_medium=ListingManager&utm_source=Copy&utm_term=so.lmsm
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