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The Whale
posted October 26, 2010

imageCreator: Aidan Koch
Publishing Information: Gaze Books, softcover, 64 pages, 2010, $10.00
Ordering Numbers: 9780615393421 (ISBN13)

This is a Xeric-funded release from Blaise Larmee's Gaze Books imprint. Its aesthetic should be familiar to anyone that took in Larmee's own Young Lions. The art is loose, the tone is pensive, and the overall effect is a keen sense of longing communicated through a narrative that rests so lightly on the page the slightest wind could send it tumbling away. I have nothing in common with my mind's eye view of the kind of person that would like this kind of comic except that I really like this kind of comic, too. Comics seems ideally suited to moments of inchoate reflection. Sometimes when words fail it's comics that can come to their rescue, a stumble of words and pictures suggesting portent and possibility when a precise clarity of meaning remains far beyond one's grasp.

Koch's story of a young woman struggling to find firm footing after losing a loved one works better, I think, for its lack of scope and traditional ambition: The Whale is meditative on a single effect, one person's state of mind at a specific, limited point in time. This both affords it its own unique verve and limits its potency a bit. The cartoonist has the luxury to dwell on certain permutations of the experience her character moves through, but in doing so fails to connect to a broader context. You go on this trip, or you stay home. Koch also employs page construction and lettering effects that feel like a default, unexamined way of utilizing those elements of craft. The lettering in particular seems to be something that might have benefited the book more directly had an alternative strategy -- or a variety of them -- been put into play. The text at times overpowers some of the more delicately constructed visual sequences. Still, there are several individual moments to which I connected in this book. Wishing for greater restraint and breadth of emotion from a work like this one seems like the kind of hope that may one day be fulfilled.