On Gary Sullivan’s Elsewhere
(Three related posts this week, M-W-F, coda Sunday)
I don’t know what it is about Japan that inspires good art. Yes, it also inspires the awful, from that Sofia Coppola movie to geisha-with-cellphone photos. But even the worst works please the eye. So the good ones are that much better.
One of the goods ones is Gary Sullivan‘s Elsewhere #1. He kindly sent me a copy after our brief exchange about an article I’d written for The Comics Journal. I enjoyed his comic, first as I felt flattered by sights I knew, then for its distance from those sights. Sullivan applies the lessons (whatever they are) of Flarf, the nonsensical poetry whose name he coined. Flarf unwinds our world of slogans, ads, and linguistic effluvia, and so finds a perfect subject in the riot of images that define Japan more than ancient temples and Bruno Taut.
Fig. 1. Emus in the Zone.
The comic consists of images and slogans Sullivan saw during his honeymoon trip. Most are ads. The only plot is looking, as his eye flits about, taking in drawings of the Yokai or the blurb for the manga One Piece. His traditional, clear layouts ensure it does not read like nonsense. Each panel has one caption. So the inane reads with a sure rhythm, lest all that Engrish cause an aneurysm.
Fig. 2. Moss the Interrupter
He tips the pen to some other artists, like Enomoto quite consciously, and SHIRIAGARI Kotobuki I suspect less so. (Though a serious artist, his image of men end-to-end sniffing like dogs, with a slogan translating as “Sniff the Butt’s Aroma,” might cast doubts.) And the endpapers point to Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. More than homage and collage, there’s an artist’s hand at work. What impresses me most is how he has structured the comic so it waxes and wanes. Even though I understand nothing rationally, when it ends, it feels right– the final page sticks in my memory more than the conclusion of the last three plotted works I’ve read.
He uses a similar approach in the Elsewhere #2, with an equally triumphant conclusion. This time, a poem by his wife Nada Gordon brushes against the advertising seen walking from Brighton Beach down Coney Island Avenue. In other words, walking from Russia through South Asia in a few blocks. Four pages in the middle put me in mind of Zorn’s Lemma, while others have me searching. The covers of these attractive comics– a perfect form for these stories, like a chapbook– make me hope Sullivan gets to work in full color soon.
His in-progress fourth issue takes Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s first film as a starting point. The third collects some works, more conventional, done for Rain Taxi Review of Books. They span autobiography and personal myth, including that Writer-as-Kirbian Hero riff that never gets old. Best of all, a few of #3′s early strips hint at his international courtship-by-correspondence with Nada Gordon, a perfect introduction to the book they built from it, Swoon.