One of the more straightforward of Portland-based cartoonist Sean Christensen’s self-published minis — to say nothing of it also being perhaps the longest, clocking it at a whopping 60 pages — 2017’s Dress Rehearsal is both a figure study and a motion study, but is nevertheless an interpretative and fairly abstract formalist work on its own merits. Which sounds like me leading off on a contradictory foot, and so it probably is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an accurate and truthful summation of the work.
The bulk of the book, as you may have surmised by the cover, is an extended depiction of two people performing a nude dance — for, as it turns out, an appreciative audience — but there’s something more at play here than what can be seen on the surface. As the figures ebb and flow — working with, against, and sometimes in contradistinction to, each other — stages and phases of the relationship between the two of them can be either inferred or intimated (maybe both), and part of the fun here is in figuring out whether what you see, what you absorb, what you interpret is an actuality, or just something you assume and/or want to be the case.
Are these two a couple? Were they in the past? Are they on the brink of becoming one now? These questions are all communicated via means of precise minimalist linework that privileges motion above all, with a deep undercurrent of what that motion either means, or might mean. Take your time and relish it all, because there’s a lot of visual information being communicated in these open, border-less panels, and there are plenty of opportunities for you to write your own story in the negative spaces that Christensen’s figures move within — that is, right up until the final few pages.
When the show is over, Christensen does an intriguing 180 and makes the abstract concrete, while remaining committed to his minimalist linework. I won’t give anything more away as to what transpires when an actual narrative arrives on the scene, but I will say that it’s thoroughly satisfying and very much “of a piece” with all that’s come before. It’s a jarring enough immediate transition on the face of things, sure, but it’s timed and executed so successfully that it absolutely works — in fact, it works to such a degree that you can’t envision things concluding any other way, and when you’re talking about a comic that’s wordless for the first 95% of its pages and suddenly becomes quite text-heavy, that’s really saying something.
Christensen’s figures/characters may not walk a literal tight-rope in this ‘zine, it’s true, but the balletic elegance and precision of their movements is very much akin to doing so, and so it seems appropriate indeed that the cartoonist does the same himself, rolling the dice on a major transition that the success of the entire comic ends up being predicated upon — but luckily for us all he’s as graceful as they are, and by the time all is said and done you’re truly ready for Christensen to take a bow, as well.
There’s more than one dance going on here, then, in the final analysis — the one we see on the page, of course, but also the one that is engaged in between reader and artist. And while I may have two left feet myself, all I had to do was follow Sean Christensen’s lead to end up somewhere pretty damn wonderful indeed.
Dress Rehearsal is available for $8.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/dressrehearsal.html
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