Catching Up With “Ley Lines” : Alyssa Berg’s “Forget-Me-Not”

There’s no more natural a fit for the Czap Books/Grindstone Comics visual poetry series Ley Lines than Alyssa Berg — as anyone who’s been fortunate enough to get their hands on her self-published Recollection and Soft Fascinations can tell you — so now that she has, in fact, gotten “on board” with the title, so to speak, my only question is : what took so long?

Admittedly, it’s unusual to see Berg’s soft watercolor work rendered in black-and-white, but prospective readers needn’t fear : Ley Lines #21, Forget-Me-Not, is absolutely gorgeous and shows that she’s every bit as adept with inkwashes as she is with paints. Every page has a lyrical rhythm that flows into the next, and that’s true before taking her sparse and emotive verse into account. This is Berg firing on all creative cylinders — but then, she never does anything halfway.

The historical figure she trains her eye on for this book, in keeping with the series’ remit, is Hilma af Klimt, Swedish painter and occultist, and Berg pays particular attention to her role as central organizer of “The Five,” a groundbreaking all-female artists’ circle devoted to the act and art of mediumship as a means by which to communicate with worlds both supernatural and entirely natural — especially botanical. The title of this work gives that much away, I suppose, but there are two kinds of gardens that Berg is illuminating here — one within, and one without. And in her more than capable hands, both are shown as the lush, verdant, awe-inspiring environs which they are.

What took me by surprise here is how linear Berg’s lyrical narrative thrust is at first glance — but deeper, and hopefully more astute. successive readings reveal a circular, perhaps even recursive, pattern to her tone poem, and show her to be at play in a garden of everything, one where “time” is laid bare as the false construct we all intuitively know it to be. Much of this, from a purely revelatory standpoint, is necessarily couched in a soft but delicious secrecy, but that’s a running theme here, as well : exploration, after all, is the necessary precursor to discovery, and there’s a lot to be discovered in Berg’s hauntingly resonant comic.

Getting back to time, however — psychological crutch though it may be (okay, is), you’ll nevertheless want to invest a fair amount of it into wrapping your mind and heart around this work. That’s par for the course with Berg’s comics and ‘zines, but is doubly true with this one, which may run counter to initial impressions given its marginally more specific focus than her other efforts, but hey — if you’re not prepared to leave rationally-arrived-at expectation aside, you’re going to get nowhere fast here, anyway. If you can, though? Then be prepared for a journey that will take you just about everywhere you want to go.

And yet it’s more an intuitively-guided journey than one it is with a hard-and-fast “map,” per se. Berg shows you various directions of where you might go with the content she’s created, but the paths you take are, ultimately, of your own choosing. All of which means that this is one of the most involving, challenging, interpretive, and provocative works of comic art in recent memory — as well as being my personal favorite Ley Lines to date.

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Forget-Me-Not is available for $6.00 from the Ley Lines storenvy site at http://leylines.storenvy.com/products/29005444-forget-me-not-ley-lines-no-21

Review wrist check – Farer Universal “Beagle II” riding a Hirsch “George” croco print strap in brown from their “Performance” series.

Keep Feeling “Soft Fascinations”

Reasonably hot off the heels of her magnificent, dreamlike Recollection, breathtaking comics poetry auteur Alyssa Berg returns with another self-published collection, Soft Fascinations, once again riso-printed with a varied and deeply sympathetic color palette that accentuates her themes of memory, fluidity, sensory consciousness, and transcendence with a kind of remarkably naturalistic aplomb, while at the same time bathing the book’s expressive illustrations with a soft, ephemeral glow. Calling it “beautiful” doesn’t do it nearly enough justice — trust me.

At just 20 pages, this is a shorter work than Berg’s last, justly-celebrated release, and yet it feels more conceptually “tight” and focused, as if each short “strip” (a term we’ll employ, by dint of sheer necessity, in as broad and expansive a fashion as possible) builds upon the one before it to present, in the end, a holistic journey within that is grounded not so much — okay, maybe even not at all — in a consensus view of “reality,” but rather in an artistic philosophy that eternally searches for human connection in all ways, at all times, between all people.

What would not be wise is to mistake this comic’s inherent universality for an eschewing of the individual, the singular, the idiosyncratic. Berg speaks a visual language all her own and communicates in it fluently, presenting readers with something wholly unique and new, yet instantly and intensely familiar — not necessarily in the way comics are, but in the way dreams are. The internal and the external are not so much linked herein as they are co-dependent on each other for their very survival, and engaged in a perpetual cycle of co-creation that even the most dense and impenetrable “New Age” texts would be at a loss to adequately explain and/or delineate — one births the other, flows from it, complements it, before returning the favor and and starting the cycle all over again, the circle this time running in the opposite direction.

It sounds like fairly standard-issue “Ying/Yang” stuff, I’m sure, but in point of fact it’s anything but.

I’m more than happy to entertain the notion that a sort of “oblique universality” was nowhere near Beg’s mind as she wrote and drew this comic, but no matter — results are what counts, and any artist worth their salt can tell you that once a work is completed, its method of absorption, as well as what it is that’s even absorbed by audiences in the first place, takes the form of  a conversation held between reader and book, with the artist as more facilitator than dictator.

What’s especially remarkable (among other things, of course), though, at least to my mind, is how utterly un-pretentious Berg’s work is, despite operating within the confines of a milieu that lends itself to pretense more easily than it does to polemic — not that this bears any hallmarks either, Berg displays an almost allergic avoidance to laying all her cards on the table in too obvious or heavy-handed a fashion, instead placing the pleasurable onus of interpretation on audiences, and likely taking a sort of distinct pleasure in knowing her loosely-constructed “story” will be seen differently by each and every person who does, in fact, see it.

Which is something you absolutely need to do, in case there was any doubt — to see it, to read it, to experience it, to feel it entirely for yourself, and on your own terms. It’s best done in a quiet space at a time when you’re not likely to be interrupted, the better to facilitate the process of absorption, but even if all you can spare in your reading schedule is a brief, 10-minute skim, you’d still be doing yourself a disservice not to at least start a dialogue with this book. It has a tremendous amount to say, but you’ll hear and see it in a way no one else has before, nor will again. Whether or not it means as much to you as it does to me is a wide-open question that only you can answer, but if you go in expecting to develop complex, sometimes even contradictory, reactions to it in the fullness of time, you’ll be in the right “head space” regardless of outside circumstances beyond your control. As long as your mind and heart are open, you’ll get something from this book.

Hell, you’ll get a lot of “somethings” from it. And they’ll be entirely unique to you, each and every one of them. There’s magic afoot in the lush, soul-stirring pages of Soft Fascinations. I urge you to fall under its powerfully understated spell immediately.

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If you’re a regular reader of this site, chances are you’ll probably already know where you can get a copy of this remarkable work. You guessed it, Domino Books, where it retails for $10. Here’s a direct link to its page in the Domino store :http://dominobooks.org/softfascinations.html

This review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly updates on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. Lately, in fact, it’s been a lot of politics. Your support there not only keeps things going, it ensures a steady supply of free content both here and at my trashfilmguru movie site. I’d be very gratified if you took a moment to check it out and consider joining by pointing your browser to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

 

A Haunting And Beautiful “Recollection”

More quiet than a whisper, louder than a thunderclap, Alyssa Berg’s riso-printed comics collection Recollection seeps into the mind through the eyes, heart, and subconscious simultaneously, bypassing entirely the gatekeeping functions of the rational mind in favor of something deeper, more profound, more fundamentally true. It never ceases to amaze, remains fundamentally unpredictable from first page to last, and hits you, as the kids say, “right in the feels.”

Which is all well and good, but at this point you could be forgiven for asking “okay, what’s the damn thing about?”

Well, how’s “everything” for an answer? Each of these emotively-rendered “strips,” created between 2013 and 2016 (with the collection eventually seeing self-published release in 2017), is a one-pager, with title and date on the page previous, and while certain themes run throughout it — yearning, loss, forgetting, discovery (or re-discovery) — in truth each sparsely-worded selection, usually “clocking in” between one and four panels in “length,” explores its conceptual territory in entirely different, entirely unique, and entirely subtle ways. Berg is your guide through this fluid, dreamlike succession of feelings and ideas, but don’t take that to mean she’s holding your hand too terribly tightly — in truth, her grip is loose, but her trust in you as a reader is incredibly strong.

“Dreamlike” is a word that you’ll return to again and again as you experience (as opposed to merely “reading”) the contents of this book, as the power of dreams to intersect with, inform, even direct conscious, waking reality may be as close to a central thesis as anything on offer here, and successive re-explorations of the pages have even caused me to consider that Berg may be proposing the radical idea of some sort of resolution between the two worlds that we live in — a singular, new, more cohesive form of consciousness that is equally informed by “fantasy” and “reality,” or else one that, at the very least, recognizes the inescapable truth that both “play off” each other to such a degree that bifurcating them into two strictly-demarcated “halves” is pointless at best, counter-productive at worst.

Here’s the thing, though : I’m fully aware of the fact that I may, in point of fact, be reading something (even several “somethings”) into this work that Berg herself, who also assumed the printing and assembling duties for this most truly personal of projects, never intended. But that doesn’t mean I’m “wrong” per se  — nor that any particular reading of this work is. In the world of independently-produced “art” comics, the concept of a “book that means whatever you think it does” is one that’s invoked frequently, but in this particular case it’s absolutely, inarguably, unequivocally true.

As wistful, melancholic, soothing, and mesmerizing as it is conceptually and emotionally challenging, Recollection is a book that carves out, and subsequently occupies, a space entirely its own and exists in a self-created “category” unto itself. Not only has there never been anything else like it, there never will be again — never can be again. It’s a pricey item to procure at $30, but will recoup your investment in it, plus interest, every time you open it up. Get your copy from Domino Books at http://dominobooks.org/recollection.html