It’s interesting how things work out sometimes. Earlier today, I was having a “conversation” via twitter about the necessity of people who are generally thought of as being “outside” comics coming into our hopefully-happy little medium, making some sort of statement with it via their art for however long a period of time they wish, and then deciding whether or not they want to stick around, or go on to do other things. By my thinking, it’s always good to have a fresh set of eyes approach comics with no preconceived notions of what they “should” or “shouldn’t,” “can” or “can’t” do, if for no other reason than to shake up the sensibilities of those who have very definite ideas in regards to these subjects and others. Words and pictures in juxtaposition can do, be, or express anything, as I think we all know on some level — sometimes it just requires a comics novice, or even a temporary comics tourist, to remind us of that.
Enter the husband-and-wife team of Lily Thu Fierro and Generoso Fierro and their gorgeous, emotive, formally experimental new self-published ‘zine Vessel, a feast for the eyes and mind that weaves together dream, memory, and medicine into a beautiful but frightening quasi-hallucinatory tapestry that references no particular artistic influences outside of itself and doesn’t so much discard the rulebook as remain blissfully unaware of its existence. This is a comic that exists in a category all its own, which is to say : it really can’t — and shouldn’t — be categorized at all.
The division of labor on this obvious labor of love is in no way clear — I couldn’t tell you who drew it, who wrote it, or if they both did some of each — but in a way that makes a kind of thematic and artistic sense, as the demarcations between the “real” and “unreal” in this work are fluid, transitory, amorphous — a thickening cardiovascular wall is a recurring theme that grounds the work in linear time, but beyond that it’s fair to say all bets are off as past, present, and pure imagination dance around each other via a series of lushly-shaded colored pencil illustrations accompanied by a minimalist, economic interior monologue. There is a sense of our narrator/protagonist, Kim, existing apart from, outside, maybe even above her own body, of being both participant and observer of the vaguely-defined research study she’s participating in, and yet she never feels disconnected from either herself or events — there is intimacy in this alienation, and alienation in this intimacy.
As a result, what we have here is a unique approach to the art of the visual narrative, one that isn’t necessarily mysterious by definition, but plenty open to interpretation regardless — my one word of caution would be against trying to assemble this in start-to-finish order of occurrence on first reading and just letting this work take you where you feel it’s taking you. Trust me when I say you won’t be in the least bit confused by it, even while you have a tricky time describing it. As evidenced, I should think, by this review itself, which I’ve gotta admit is a slow-going thing on my end as I try my level best to communicate not so much the particulars of this work, but the sensations engendered by it.
Hell, I’m halfway tempted to ask “how’m I doing at that so far?,” but that would rather defeat the purpose. This is, you see, a comic that takes you places, and the most exciting thing about it is that they’re largely places you haven’t been before, and therefore lack a proper frame of reference for trying to express in purely verbal terms. Initially, I’d be inclined to say that means I’ve met my match here, but I prefer to think of it as having found a work (okay, been sent a work) that has done what very few others have : left me utterly speechless. I’m not sure if I should be grateful for that — but I can tell you in no uncertain terms that I am.
I don’t know much about these creators, other than what I’ve been able to piece together from their website. I take it they host a weekly radio show largely specializing in old-school ska and that Lily has a passing interest in comics, at least according to one of the posts they have up on there. What I do know for certain is this : even if they never make another comic themselves, they’ve given this medium a gift that can probably never be fully repaid.
Vessel is available for $18 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/vessel.html
Check out Lily and Generoso’s website at https://lilyandgeneroso4ever.com/about/