The Best Mad Scientist
Surveying the Experimental Comics of Eroyn Franklin
Courtesy of Eroyn Franklin
While those who experiment with prose and poetry are often marginalized in some ghetto (Oulipo, dadaism, erasure, Flarf) far away from the classics of literature, the greatest works in comics could almost all be considered experimental. Chris Ware's comics broke new ground in panel layout and page design, Art Spiegelman's Maus inserted the type of cute characters you'd find in kids' comics into the Holocaust, Lynda Barry's primitivism made confessional comics feel even more human. Maybe it's just because comics as a medium is still so new, or perhaps it's because they live in the rough territory between the two disparate disciplines of words and pictures, but experimentation feels essential to the act of creating comics.
And nobody in Seattle is doing more to experiment with comics than Eroyn Franklin. Her best work to date is Detained ($16), a long-form piece of nonfiction reportage about illegal immigrants caught in Washington State's detention system that comes in the form of one long "tracking shot" panning down a single two-foot-long piece of paper. But Franklin is a comics mad scientist who seems to always have two or three different experiments running at a time.
Franklin's most recent work—available on her website and at Elliott Bay Book Company—is a wild array of minicomics. Vantage ($4), for example, is an abstract narrative detailing Franklin's journey on Susan Robb's four-day Long Walk, a series of detailed sketches of vegetation and soil that folds open into tiny, ornate panorama drawings of landscapes. There are no words (or, for that matter, people) in Vantage, but it's just as vivid a memoir of a trek from Puget Sound to Snoqualmie Falls as any nature essay. On the other end of the spectrum, For the Record, I Know This Is a Bad Idea ($3) is like a nasty punk record crammed full of short, brutish tracks; it's a collection of short strips about bodily fluids, nudity, forced miscarriages, and mean jokes. (The centerfold is a realistic portrait of a veiny, erect horse cock.)
Every book is different: Sorry Sheets ($4) is a kind of slow-motion slapstick featuring a naked man and woman bumbling around together in the bathroom of their apartment. It's an almost-wordless examination of a relationship that's heavy with too many unfixable problems. Deluge ($3) is a literal depiction of depression as a thick, green fluid that drips out of every hole in a middle-aged woman's head, eventually becoming an impossible, heavy mountain. Dear Dear ($4), one of Franklin's more concrete forays into narrative storytelling, is a series of interviews about a terrible accident that crescendos in a single beautiful, awful image. And Just Noise ($7) is an argument between a man and a woman with all the word balloons physically cut out of the comic, leaving the reader to put words in the characters' mouths, like watching a domestic dispute in the apartment window across the street.
Each of these books alone could be considered a worthy experiment, but when viewed as one work—I wish some enterprising publisher would "anthologize" all of Franklin's work into a boxed set of some sort—all that impulsive, restless energy starts to focus into telling the larger story of an artist well on her way to mastering the medium.