I picked this up on a whim at the August Alternative Press Fair having remembered reading Tom Humberstone’s Vented Spleen comics a few years ago.
The content, technically, I suppose is the standard domain of autobiographical comics. I was, to be honest, expecting a standard riff borrowed from Jeffrey Brown or James Kochalka so I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to be something quite a bit more interesting. There was a high level of self-awareness, cynicism and humanity, which sometimes comics seem to gloss over.
The story starts off slowly. It gives a general feel for Tom, but it also has a slightly stalling affect on the autobiography, But by page 10 we’re in the thick of it with an almost pitch perfect description of meeting someone you click with. And then following it with an exploration into this brief relationship and the aftermath.
I think part of the thing I found most affecting in the book were Tom’s eyes, which sounds like a completely ridiculous statement now I’ve written it down. But, most illustrators, seem to leave eyes as an afterthought; using eyebrows, mouths and hands to communicate emotion. Tom’s clearly spent a lot of time watching people and recognising that eyes aren’t a binary equation of one or zero, but rather another way of communicating our emotions, from reticence to fear, or excitement. A lot of the book’s narrative is pushed along by this minute form of body language, but it’s a testament to his awareness of this language that it works so well.
The book also plays very effectively with the comics form, both with his use of layout and typography, but also what finally appears in the panels. I’m normally not a great fan of breaking the ‘fourth wall’, but for this introspective it worked well expressing the difficulties and pain he felt over the relationship through meta-narratives and explaining the reluctance he had of dissecting final conversations. Peter Kuper used it to good effect in his 2007 autobiography, Stop Forgetting to Remember, but it’s more elegantly done here.
The panels and dialogue balloons also have a playful side to them. Much of the book doesn’t have panel borders, instead, allowing time to move more fluidly through itself. The first chapter especially, and partly because of the heavy use of cross hatching, reminded me a lot of Joe Sacco and how he uses page space. It gave much of the book a contemplative feel, which suited it well, and forced me as the reader to slow down in places to properly understand what was going on.
There are a couple of minor problems I have with the book, but overall it’s an engaging, and recommended, read. There’s only 200 copies so I’d suggest hurrying to buy a copy!