Review: 'Memory' is a complete success- a collection of art by 52 different artists across 8 countriesA comic review article by: Justin Giampaoli
Memory is a tricky thing. It can be the literal dry recollection of past events, visceral emotional responses still lingering in the mind, or a figurative sense of nostalgia in the collective consciousness. Memory artistically attacks each flank of the mental dynamic with equal gusto.
This volume of the Memory anthology is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, which funded well over the initial goal. It’s billed as a catalogue of 52 different artists from 8 countries interpreting the theme of human memory via illustration work and sequential art. With contributions from inevitable luminaries such as Lizzee Solomon, Diego Simone, and Jeremy Baum, to stalwarts on the indie scene like Danny Hellman, Tom Scioli, and Jim Rugg, it’s easy to chalk Memory up as an unqualified success.
Now, whenever I’m confronted with a vast anthology to review, my mind tries to immediately rank my favorite pieces (which, hint-hint, I’ll inevitably spend more time highlighting here) in a very tactically-minded order-to-chaos hierarchy, while also searching for larger strategic meaning to tie the disparate pieces together. For me, the best pieces in Memory are those which operate within a greater cultural context, transcending mere examples of how memory functions and how artists might interpret that. There were a lot of “best pieces” in Memory that we can run down.
One early example which probably best demonstrates this elevation to cultural context is “Ceviche” by Lizzee Solomon. For our Spanish language audience, it’s subtitled: “Memorias de pescado cocinado en acido citrico.” Ceviche is very common in Southern California, and a personal favorite, so perhaps I was just predisposed as a foodie to like this entry. But, for people in other parts of the country, it’s important to note that a piece subtitled “Memories of fish cooked in citric acid” is much more than the sum of those literal parts.
While it is indeed presented as the memory of preparing such a feast in Oaxaca, Mexico one afternoon, it’s also a cultural touchstone. As depicted, it’s about working in a group or family unit, about utilizing fresh bounty caught by hand from the sea, the ritual of cleaning the fish, chopping the onions, and squeezing innumerable limes, pausing for beer, the laughs, the experience, the memory you’re actively creating, and not just horking down the food like a typical American consumer.
The art is full of thick, bold, voluptuous line weights, which accentuate the storytelling in such an emotive fashion that you don’t even need to translate the Spanish captions to understand what’s happening. The aesthetic is a mixture of R. Crumb sweaty-browed grotesquerie, with sharp full-color brilliance. I could’ve read an entire story from this creator about this day, real or imagined. “Ceviche” rises to become a social anthropology vignette, on top of being a great little comic.
“Memories of Ella” by Daniele Giardini & Jelena Dordevic lulls readers into the belief that a robot is dutifully recording the memories of an unreliable narrator. Visually, it’s a raw black and white style, almost reminiscent of Lynd Ward woodcut engravings. The slip of memory is that lying to yourself is perhaps the greatest danger, victors write the history books, and “Memories of Ella” plays with our perceptions as a reader, how we remember what we’re being told, if we actively look for inconsistency and participate in the process, or merely accept what we’re shown at face value.
Victor Puchalski has a couple pieces in the book, but I was really drawn to “Reynard’s Braves,” purely for the striking visuals. It felt like Mike Allred meets Paul Pope, with the pop sensibility of the former, and the latent kinetic energy of the inky latter. Thematically, I think it touched on the ways that a cold definition on paper lacks nuance and range, and can differ wildly from real-world examples.
Jesca Leigh’s “Journal” employs a nice use of warm burnt oranges and cool blue hues to demonstrate that nostalgic and contemporary versions of self are sometimes engaged in a rather contentious relationship. Our memory is colored by nostalgia; it often romanticizes facts by accentuating the positive and diffusing the negative. When confronted with a version of herself in her own hand, we can see the stark contrast, because her high-school era diary entries are in her own incontrovertible words. There’s subtle power in this relatively simple juxtaposition.
“The Tune” by Diego Simone is something of a comic book rock apocrypha, feeling like something Becky Cloonan could have produced as a featurette on the old MTV Liquid Television, if she’d been just a few years older. Simone’s reverberating lines are rendered with bold coloring that add an emotional gravitas to the uprising of the human spirit. It was difficult for me to correlate this piece with any notion of memory, but it was still one of the better pure comics in the project.
In the interest of more equitable exposure, let me rattle off a few others in rapid fire succession. “The Stranger” by Mater Totemica used a frail line to perfectly capture memory vis-à-vis the largely silent mental health epidemic in this country. Julie Sokolow always offers a distinct instantly recognizable visual presence, using sparse black lines with geometrical precision on vast white pages. Her piece is about memory existing on a continuum and how we imagine (nay, remember) ourselves as heroes in our own story. Danny Hellman was also a standout, his two-page spread serving as a “you are here” marker about halfway through the proceedings. Using blues and purples, it’s a lightning strike signifier to a post-apocalyptic memorial of how things came to be, with embedded clues lurking in the rubble. “Be Like Before” by Alice Leoni is something of a sci-fi morality play, zipping by in full page crimson sepia-tone like an old Twilight Zone episode that reminds us to be careful what we wish for. The wolves just may come. Diego Tripodi offers one of the more memorable pieces in “The Elephant’s Graveyard.” While it begins like some noir-ish Lynch-ian mystery with bleak colors and quiet contemplation over totemic figures, it moves briskly to open air exploration and explosions of color that insinuate hope.
Tom Scioli’s untitled piece (which, I believe, is deliberately untitled for the most obvious reasons) upends the standard genre conventions of the superhero paradigm by tinkering with its most globally iconic member. Scioli has done strong homage, bordering on satire before, the Kirby-esque Godland with Joe Casey comes to mind, and here breaks the fourth wall in a most interesting manner, subtly playing on the reader’s memory of how the man with the big “S” on his chest is “supposed to” function. It’s full of hidden horrors that would likely play out if such a person actually existed in our fallible world.
“G.A.R.D.E.N.I.A. 500” by Victor Puchalski & Cesar Sebastian is a fun affair that traverses a lot of ground, from Space God Creationism, to the romantic bloom being off the rose, to an apocalyptic battle with all manner of creature. It sort of extrapolates human existence and our relationship with the cosmos, perhaps the entirely of homo sapiens memory, in just these few pages.
Whoever was responsible for editing this project, well, it’s almost as if they deliberately saved the best for last. “Creation Story” by Morgan Ritchie-Baum & Jeremy Baum anchors the impressive 52 entries with the collective human memory of how we came to be. The creators posit an alt mythology, an original creation myth, which is one of my favorite tropes in the world of indie comics. It’s full of icy grays and blues, anemic flicks of detailed ink on the page, all composed toward dramatic figures screaming toward the heavens. It’s like a short film of Kubrick-ian proportions that moves from one end of existence to the other, from earthbound paganism to geospatial futurism. Team Baum’s framing of shots is excellent, manipulating our perception with hard close-ups or spectacular vistas in a roller-coaster ride of sequential art. Hell, I’d probably pay the $18 entry fee just for this story.
Winding things down, my only slight critical feedback is this. I’ve read dozens of indie anthologies in my time as a critic, writing as many reviews, and something as basic as the good ol’ TOC has become something of a pet peeve. A table of contents that is well thought-out can help me separate the wheat from the chaff. I want to be able to easily identify who did what piece, especially when they’re not all titled, not all credited, and all you have to go by is essentially page number. The editor(s) of this book did what seems like a smart thing. They simply list all 50+ creators in equitable alphabetical order, with the page numbers of the pieces they contributed right alongside those entries. So, if I want to see who did page 100 and 101, let’s say, which are not credited or titled within the piece itself, there’s no way for me to quickly look that up without scanning every name on the entire three-page list of contributors until I find those page numbers, which are out of sequence. It’s a petty gripe, but there’s an easy way around it. Short of requiring every single contributor to credit and title every single piece, which is admittedly a Draconian measure (especially when you’re trying to herd this many indie cats), the small tweak to make future installments more enjoyable and user-friendly is to just structure the TOC in numerical page order.
Taking Memory in as a whole, I tend to focus on the longer narrative-driven pieces, as opposed to some of the single page entries or “pin-up” style contributions. I’d be remiss in not highlighting some of the fantastic art that’s sprinkled throughout the 188 page affair in that manner. Tim Molloy contributes on pages 4, 28, and 80, some striking imagery that seems to conflate Indian and Mayan or Aztec motifs in order to induce the memory of alternate religious traditions. On page 182, though it’s part of a longer piece, Jessica Heberle crafts what is one of the most beautiful static images in the book. There’s a lost X-Files episode, there’s the ornate patterning of “Box Office Communists” by Edwin Vasquez, and like the best anthologies, there’s definitely something for everyone considering the vast array of styles rallying around the unifying theme in Memory.
Sometimes, I like to end at the beginning, so I’ll direct your attention to the cover by Jim Rugg. While some of my more musically inclined compatriots at Comics Bulletin would probably make a comparison to a certain Rolling Stones album cover, I’m mentioning Rugg’s cover because of the idea of astral recession. There are echoes of an image here, like trying to remember a dream. Do you recall just the actions that occurred, or do you recall the actual emotions that quickly fade with every second that passes? The cover itself is an interesting artifact. I’m such a proponent of print comics vs. digital comics, particularly in the indie space. For me, being able to physically hold the objet d’ art in my hands is an endemic part of the reading experience. Memory is a great example of that intrinsic strength with whatever spot varnish printing technique has created the tactile viscosity of the cover. It gives good hand. I certainly won’t forget my time with Memory.
Buy Memory from Jeremy Baum's website.