I made a stupid decision while sitting waiting to get on the 101 (I say "the" before freeway names now because I live in Los Angeles and these fucking townies will run me out of the state if I do anything else): "what if I grabbed some beers and just blitzed a bunch of comic reviews?" I know, I know, for the arguable King of Comic Review Burnout, this is completely fucking stupid. But, whatever. Cheers.
You can buy What is Left here.
I was trying to decide which book I should write a review of first. I have Baron Yoshimoto's The Troublemakers sitting right next to me, as I've been working through it over the past few days. Some things are percolating in my brain-head-face about that book, but I didn't want to go headlong into a review without a warmup.
So, instead, my stupid ass decided to pick the first book that caught my eye off the shelf, Rosemary Valero-O'Connell's What is Left.
As soon as I started thinking about the book--quite literally, once I had opened my browser and glanced over at the matte black cover laying skewed on the edge of my couch--I started tearing up. I made the mistake of first reading What is Left on a crowded Long Island Railroad train into the city one morning when my commute used to take me out from Nassau County into Penn Station.
Oh, the memories.
I only read the book once. I remember it vividly: the exquisite command of color. The alarmingly thoughtful layouts. The power in the brevity of the story and the absolute clarity of concept that remains impressive to me. This is some high-brow sci-fi shit in a package fit for YA (I mean this in the most generous sense).
Oh, the memories.
I couldn't bring myself to pick the book up again until now. Part of it was quite selfish: I remembered it as being so goddamn good that I did not want to ruin the image of it that I held in my mind. But as I sort of just suggested above, my image of it was a perfect image of it because Valero-O'Connell's work in this book is utterly singular. I don't know what else to do but heap praise. I'm only one beer in so I hope it's clear why I started with this book. I'm a babbling idiot writhing on the floor speaking in tongues at the feet of this fucking story.
Come to think of it, the other reason was selfish too. At some point, I decided that writing anything that was just fawning was a waste of my time. "That's not criticism," or some shit, I don't know. Surely I should be focused on "unpacking the work" or some such pretentiousness. That made it hard to write about What is Left because I knew I couldn't help but start by expressing how, quite simply, I am in awe of the book.
And yet it's not as if it's fanboy-ish of me to at once drool over this book while also getting into specifics, like how I adore the way in which the two main colors of the story--the duality of the real and the remembered--tell a completely unsubtle tale of intimacy and vulnerability that still manages to have markedly subtle moments. I love that these colors first appear a bit more subtly, demarcating the inside and outside respectively of our subject's shattered helmet, which we later see her remove. That kind of detail might seem like an afterthought, but the fact that any time at all is spent on this object-oriented gesture of her stopping to remove her helmet in the midst of everything that happens, both remembered and real...
I know a lot of comics that have stretches of panels wherein they are rhythmic and interesting and balanced and have something to say, but I can't think of another comic that is this measured. I can hear everything Isla says in the way she speaks: her cadence is palpable, ringing with a kind of timidity that I understand on a level that feels intimate.
I like to think that if I had the chance to walk back through the dreams I've had where I've lost friends I only imagined I had, that I could give this much care to saying goodbye to them; Isla's voice is a quiet, deliberate whisper to all of the fleeting targets of our emotions, in our memories, in our dreams,
in those ephemeral iterations.