Tusen Hjärtan Stark #1, published by Domino Books (2013): feat. Warren Craghead, Joanna Hellgren, Elizabeth Bethea, and Wiley Guillot
“Roughly translated from Swedish as ‘a thousand strong hearts,’ this anthology attempts to present difficult, challenging work alongside the art of rarely-translated European artists in a package that is cheap and accesible.” - Domino
Cool. That’s a summary I can get behind. And Austin English, the headman over at Domino, has sincerely made good on his attempt. The design is economical and flawless. The unwieldy newspaper format causes no problems as every entry is perfectly sized for an easy read, and as the above description goes on to explain, each of the three artists are given 8 pages to fully develop and showcase their interests, unlike many anthologies. The cover art by Wiley Guillot is stark and clear and possibly my favorite image in a publication filled with striking stuff. The whole effort is a unique and affordable offering that feels needed somehow in this upcoming world of small press comics.
I’ve split the following thoughts into sections, hoping to give each artist a little consideration and space.
Craghead: From what I’ve gathered, Warren Craghead’s pages are a result of remixing various marks and image fragments into a poetic comics-web, a slightly overgrown garden of doodles and drawings. The text comes to us in strings weaving around and through the gaps in the image, meandering, like.. uh, an emerging stream or something.. or a windsong. Actually, the whole narrative seems to be coming from a worm’s-eye perspective, crawling through the underbrush and just existing, surrounded by stalks of grass and gentle hums. After I took the time to fully embrace the rhythm of the strip, the very process of reading came to resemble.. like, how a surfer talks about “riding the tube(?)” or whatever.. just being totally present and in the zone. A peaceful, wonderful feeling. But I guess if I knew anything about Craghead’s work this wouldn’t come as a surprise. Here’s the first line of his artistic statement:
”My work explores the absurd idea of how to be everywhere; It insists that art can be accessible, cryptic, and beautiful all at the same time.”
Surfing, flows, streams. Streams were on my mind when I first sat down to write this review. Not specifically talking about water.. but more like the massive currents of media that surround our lives, or maybe just life in general as an ongoing stream. And my initial thoughts were that contemporary streams exist as a resistance to the full scope of memory (encoding, storing, and retrieving). There’s just too much information. But of course memory’s also a stream? Or maybe that streams work in contrast to the goals of.. research.. or a form of knowledge, somehow? It was pretty hazy.. but I couldn’t help but think of Tumblr and Twitter as specific sites where inconceivable amounts of information can pass through our lives, information that is structured in a way to actively discourage reflection. It’s all about refreshing the scroll, right? Do people go back and reminisce over particularly compelling tweets? I dunno, I’m asking. So, when I first read Warren’s thoughts about replicating and transposing the spontaneous, “without thinking” scramble of our reality.. and sending it back into our reality, it just felt like.. almost too appropriate or redundant or something? Like, why repurpose these endlessly mundane streams of life as sketchy doodles and drawings? Aren’t we all (anyone who has the free time to chill out and read comics) doing this all the time?
Well, fortunately, Craghead’s comics show us exactly why this process is interesting and maybe why comics, as a medium, is particularly suited to explore some of the issues concerning time and thought and memory and existence ;) . On some level comics are so accessible and so non-linear. They invite the reader to return and reexamine. How often have you reread or put down or picked up a comic in fits and starts? Casually moving up and down a page or between pages. With a comic, the viewer has the power to navigate the spaces and tempo between thoughts and images. They control the experience. And one of the things Warren does in this work is to replicate the immediate moment, and by extension the imprecise and questioning flows of memory, through the act of reading. His comics are often composed of these delicately reworked scraps of reality transposed as drawings. The fragments are then reassembled to generate anew that first feeling of life as it happens. Or in other works the images merge with a more literal life out in the world somewhere.. like on a post-it or whatever. But in these pages the final compositions resemble a shaky structure, like an old family cabin or some such, that one is encouraged to wander in and out of.. reminiscing, re-remembering. And without going into too much detail, he achieves this by, I mean, I don’t really know, but judging from the bits of social media out there it seems like Craghead is drawing and recording all the time. Thousands of Instagram pictures. Drawing as a way of encoding life (mechanically, “without thinking”) into an archive of discreet symbols that can be recalled or recombined into a narrative or mosaic that is equally evasive and incomplete, and one that invites its own questions.
And I think it is this process of returning and reexamining that’s the main point of interest for me in his work. Our world now is practically overrun by stream-of-conscious narratives and it’s nice to see a space that can replicate the feeling of a fleeting moment, but obviously, in order to do so, it suggests the opposite, a period of complete consideration and care. The attempt to merge the act of drawing with the very basics of lived life is a difficult and admirable task.. maybe some kind of metaphor for cartooning in general? ;P And I feel like in the end it shows us how truly impossible that task is to achieve.. or more appropriately, how it’s really the attempt in the face of impossibility that matters, the continual process. And in providing this space he gives us free reign, on our terms, to look around and explore, on and off the page, his world and ours. Always a good thing.
Take the advice straight from the Domino site and read this comic slowly and more than once. :)
*Part 2 can be read here.
You can purchase a copy of Tusen Hjärtan Stark here. And it is currently included free of charge (3/9/13) with the purchase of any other Domino publication.
Warren Craghead, Wiley Guillot, Joanna Hellgren, Elizabeth Bethea, Domino Books