One thing I’ve come to appreciate about Jason T. Miles’ comics and ‘zines over the years — and which undoubtedly holds true for his latest self-published effort, What Its Like — is that he simply doesn’t have time to fuck around. Take, for instance, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it misspelling in the title here : I assume it to be intentional, but I could be entirely wrong about that, and the beauty of the whole things is that it really doesn’t matter much either way. There’s a ferocity to this story, these drawings, the entire project that speaks of someone sitting down at the drawing board and getting it all down on paper before it goes away. And now that it’s out in the world in print, it ain’t going anywhere.
Everything here is abstract, it’s true, but also recognizable to one degree or another — not as a hard-and-fast “thought” or “idea” per se, but as a mood and as an energy. Peel away the thin veneer of metaphor surrounding the forest-dweller at the center of this one — and yes, it’s worth pointing out that, unlike with some of Miles’ other work, most notably his really experimental mini-comics, there’s a narrative on offer here, maybe even a linear one — and what you have is intent, intensity, admittedly ugliness in a kind of honest-for-what-it-is form : a work that is figuring itself out as it goes along, much like so many of us are ourselves.
Which means, of course, that we’re privileging reaction over the minutiae of analysis here, since this is a ‘zine that invites (hell, maybe that should be demands) the former and eschews the latter, the reader given little by way of bearings to determine the nature of the actions they’re witnessing beyond threadbare narration and dense scrawling that evokes the character of a place, of a person/thing, but doesn’t hew itself to the tyranny of specifics. If you want those, you’re just going to have to provide them for yourself.
Oh yeah, this is no cakewalk. The entire ‘zine is a phantasmagoria of potential wonders and horrors and confusion that’s in no way necessarily confused in and of itself. You see different things, notice additional layers, peel away more of the onion with every pass-though — but the core remains shrouded in a fair amount of mystery by design. Like a visitors’ brochure for a dimension that only intersects with our own in random locales and for short periods of time, it’s not that you can’t glean make out the contours of something both in the distance and right under your nose, but goddamn — you’d better be quick about it.
Giving lie to the notion that the whole enterprise is just a hustle, there are numerous skilled figure drawings and inventive designs to be made out under the rapid and perhaps even rabid sensory-overload scribblings and gray-tone shadings — there may even be as much signal as there is noise — but it’s not always clear which is more important, assuming such value judgments even have any place here. When all is said and done it appears as though our protagonist may have the world on his shoulders, but that’s okay : by then, you’ll know the feeling pretty well yourself if you’ve given each page the attention it requires. Which likely makes the comic sound like more work than it actually is, given how immersed in the proceedings the perceptive reader will find themselves, but even still : a hard hat and lunch pail aren’t exactly bad things to bring with you when you sit down with this one.
I dunno, maybe there’s something wrong with me (okay, no “maybe” about it), but this is the sort of art that really excites me — intellectually, sure, but even more so cognitively and viscerally. Something that is never the same experience twice, and isn’t much like anything else you’ve seen the first time around. Miles is determined to take you places not by guiding you, but by whisking you away in a tsunami of imagination and purpose. Where you end up, though? That’s every bit as much up to you as it is to him.
What Its Like is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/whatitslike.html
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