And so, dear friends, I return — and what a ‘zine to end the my little hiatus with! Brooklyn-based cartoonist Andrew Alexander has been impressing your host/critic with his self-published diary comics for the last couple/few years, but as unlikely-at-first-glance as it may seem, his latest Cram Books-published collection of charcoal drawings depicting scenes from various movies and TV shows on heavy construction-type paper, Screened In Exile, is, if anything, even more personal in nature than his memoir-oriented work. That’s because these aren’t “just” drawings — they’re drawings with a story behind them and a purpose to them.
Which, I suppose, is my cue to elaborate a bit more, but why listen to me blather on when the artist himself explains things far better than I ever could? And so we now, unbeknownst to him, turn the floor over to Mr. Alexander —
What’s equally remarkable to the compelling backstory that informs this collection, though, is the degree to which Alexander captures not only the essential character of, but his own emotive responses to, memorable instances from Jackie Brown, Cool Hand Luke, The Long Goodbye, Mean Streets — hell, even such generally-more-middling fare as Justified and Mad Men. Alexander’s perspective, and the circumstances behind it, result in a truly immersive experience for readers, one informed by factors both within and without the content being delineated and communicating something very much like what it means to watch a film or TV program from someone else’s vantage point. Simply put, you’ll recognize most of what’s in here, but you’ve never seen it like this before.
Which brings us, in a very real sense, to a language barrier of sorts — not that this ‘zine is printed in French or Spanish or something, mind you, no : this barrier is both more subtle and more impenetrable. I guess what’s I’m struggling to say is that Alexander’s drawings don’t evoke feelings that are easily translated into words so much as they just evoke, well, feelings themselves — sensory memories that are sifted through the prism of someone else entirely and reflected back in ways as utterly new as they are utterly familiar. Again, the best method of demonstration is probably for me to just shut up for a second and provide a sample page —
Droll details can’t capture the sheer intent that literally seethes from these pages, as anyone who’s ever spent time looking at strictly photo-referenced illustrations can tell you. I’d be curious, in fact, to know how many of these were drawn from sheer memory alone and how many relied on the aid of a remote control “pause” button, but maybe it doesn’t matter all that much in the final analysis : after all, honesty and exactitude are hardly one and the same thing. Alexander’s representations of media occupy a space all their own, his space, and in that space, artistic methodologies and artistic outcomes are intertwined in ways that transcend the simple equation of “well, I did this in order to produce that.” Am eloquent explication of what those ways are again leads me to a linguistic impasse, but I’m okay with that : after all, a good magician never reveals his or her tricks, and I’d be lying through my teeth if I said there wasn’t something very akin to magic going on in this book.
As a critic, then, am I inadequate to the task of telling you why this is such a special collection — one that I freely admit to having spent several hours poring over? Well, perhaps, but I guess we all meet our match at some point. And while closing this review by paraphrasing Jack Kirby’s famous “Don’t Ask — Just Buy It!” tag line is arguably less than a work this wholly remarkable deserves, it also seems oddly appropriate, because asking too many questions ruins the spell Alexander casts here, and you really do need to buy it.
Screened In Exile is available for $10.00 from the Cram Books website at https://www.cram-books.com/product/screened-in-exile
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