Not so very long ago an alternative comic from the UK meant a small press comic, and more often than not small press comic meant a hastily collated and badly stapled black and white photocopied piece of tat. Things have come a long way, now alternative comics publishers of all sizes are springing up like thistles on an abandoned allotment, and comics made by people in their bedroom often put the production values of the big publishers to shame. One such new publisher is Breakdown Press, and their first book is a collection of stories by Joe Kessler, an artist who had already impressed me with his self published 2010 comic Mwara.
Too often with the more recent beautiful looking comics, the story is a bit of a let down, not so with Windowpane! This comic almost reads like an anthology, it seems to be a collection on a common theme, although the nature of this theme remains obscure. For the most part, Kessler abandons story titles, letting the narratives run together and resonate with only style and palette separating them.
Kessler’s style of storytelling is reminiscent of Ray Bradbury who he nicks a story off for the opening pages of Mwara. There’s a similar reach toward metaphor on a cosmic scale, teetering on the brink of real profundity before leaving the reader once again washed up on the shores of every day life.
Kessler’s use of a Bradbury story is one example of his use of appropriation, a technique that he employs with remarkable unselfconscious relish in Windowpane. Under the heading ‘Copied’ he lists a number of references such as John and Paul Nash, Italo Calvino and Jamie McKendick, yet none of this ever feels like someone else’s story and seems more like recontextualising than interpreting.
One of the stories in Windowpane continues one begun in Mwara, the non-fiction reminiscences’ of Kessler’s friend Reuben Mwara and his background and early life in the slums of Nairobi. It’s a harrowing read but there are fantastic moments of humour. Kessler simplifies his palette and line work in the lead up to a breathtaking arson sequence, which uses the Risograph palette to create real suspense and drama.
Elsewhere the Risograph is used to impressively varied effect. The chunky lines and blocky pastel colours of the last story add to the comedy, particularly in the car crash sequence. Other stories have a lovely free brushwork about them, which seem to draw in equal measure from Japanese calligraphy, and naff 80’s knitwear patterns.
This really is good stuff, innovative in every department and succeeding on every level, I can’t wait to see what comes next. Buy it now!!