Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review -- Amy Jean Porter's SPIDER, MAN

Spider, Man
(Amy Jean Porter)
3 stars
My friends, there is a comic out there that advertises itself as “the story of a man and a spider, eating sandwiches, on the anti-social web.” That comic is the aptly named Spider, Man and its publication marks something significant in the comics world. What that significance is, though, eludes me for the moment.
In this book, Porter strains to say something, but her voice is so quiet it's hard to hear exactly what it is.
It's a story told in aphorisms juxtaposed with full page tight pencil drawings suffused in gray ink washes. Within each standalone art piece Porter has embedded “Txt Msg Messages” adding a further truncated layer of narrative to its sparseness. This is a story about time and loneliness, technology and, of course, sandwiches. How it all puts together, though, is a head-scratcher.
It's as if Porter really, really, really wanted to give us some insight about these larger themes, but she wasn't sure what they were, and figured that if she kept it sparse, it still would speak volumes. This book could be the height of pretentiousness if it weren't so quiet in its desperation, so delicate in its execution. It's observational, without seeing behind anything, couched in language that caresses instead of reveals.
I'm still having trouble figuring out if I like it or not. I'm reminded of James Kochalka's Sunburn, but with an “artisanal” sensibility and all the bile that word evokes in the back of my throat. Then again, perhaps I'm over-thinking things. This is about sandwiches after all. Everybody loves sandwiches.

Porter's art is as gentle as her voice. While there is a crispness to her figures, they float on a background of gray charcoal and ink. They stand forth without cutting through and are accentuated by the opposition. Nothing is forced, except the inclusion of the “Txt Msg” which distracts more than it should.
There is something confrontational about Spider, Man – insomuch as I feel confrontational towards it. In it's beard-stroking, it forces me to react, I emotionally respond. With each subsequent reading that reaction gains intensity and, this being so, makes me consider its aesthetic value.
If art is meant to invoke a response in its audience, then Spider, Man must be called art. But if its message is confused, its voice too soft, what value does it hold? Does the responsibility of the artist transcend their ability? If the vision is greater than the talent, what then? Is Spider, Man itself even concerned with these sorts of questions, or is Porter actually exploring the nature of aesthetic communication in the age of digital shortcuts?
I like that Spider, Man makes me ponder this sort of stuff because it gives me faith that there is enough intent in the book to warrant it. Maybe it's just not for me.
Maybe, though, it's for you.
You can get a copy of Spider, Man through Birdcage Bottom Books.

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