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Talking Lines
posted November 11, 2009


Creator: RO Blechman
Publishing Information: Drawn And Quarterly, hardcover, 272 pages, September 2009, $29.95
Ordering Numbers: 1897299850 (ISBN10), 9781897299852 (ISBN13)

RO Blechman has had one of those New York art figure careers about which I used to sit and dream. He penned one of the great, proto graphic novels, The Juggler Of Our Lady; he learned animation and eventually started his own studio; he contributed to Humbug; he made 14 New Yorker covers; he enjoyed a distinguished career in advertising; he published several books; he won Emmy Awards; he and his wife eventually retired to their country home, where he blogs for Huffington Post. It is one of those life journeys that looks even more marvelous from a distance where one can't detect the struggles along the way or the unfulfilled ambitions: in the introduction to Talking Lines Blechmas expresses regret over never having produced an animated feature. It is additionally strange to see a comics career as accomplished as Blechman's with so little in the way of laudatory encouragement from comics circles. To many comics fans RO Blechman lies somewhere between an unknown quantity and outright exotic.

imageTalking Lines should correct that last bit of short-changing. Drawn and Quarterly's lovely hardcover edition -- even if you don't intend for one second to buy this book you owe it to yourself to check out its jacket design next time you're in a D&Q-friendly bookstore -- puts on display a number of his comics short stories from approximately 50 years of his creating them. If you've never considered Blechman before, you have no reason not to do so now. The primary takeaway for many folks with Blechman is his wobbly line, which is more decorative than indicative, more a choice I think than on any level a capitulation. That line gives the work much of its voice but also fades into the background in the longer stories where there's sustained exposure to its peculiarities. In fact, I'd argue that in those stories more than a page or two in length it's less the quality of the line that seeps to the forefront but Blechman's very deliberate sense of pacing, a slow progression from moment to moment that I wasn't always fond of encountering. Blechman inhabits moments as well as passes through them, and given his predilection for simplistic design it may be the only way he can hold his reader's attention in that manner.

The work itself is a mixed bag. The most accomplished, graceful works on display are probably the short pieces of a literary nature from a series of assignments this decade, but damned if I could tell you about the content of a single one. Some of the other cartoons are fairly straight-forward in terms of the effect they achieve: a short called "Tolstoy's Pen," for instance, is almost paint-by-numbers for that sort of piece. The piece that both killed me dead in an emotional sense and made me glad I picked up the book was an unpublished 1992 story called Georgie, where a couple allows a great river of grief to flow through them and right onto the family pet. There are single-drawing pages in Georgie that sum up the fragile state of human life, relationships and happiness in as heartbreaking a fashion as any cartoonist has ever achieved; the story is also delightfully oddball, and I was never sure where I was being led. In fact, when a conclusion to which I'd come about the direction of the story failed to happen, I realized I had partly adopted the mindset of one of the leads in wishing for that outcome. It's a pretty rare achievement when the things your story isn't about can have an effect on its reading. I look forward to dipping back into this book over the next several years.