“Seek You,” Kristen Radtke

“Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness.” Written and illustrated by Kristen Radtke. Pantheon, $30. July 2021. 352 pp. Adult.

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from Pantheon.

Content warning: Many readers have found the descriptions and illustrations of the primate research of Harry Harlow disturbing. Also, if you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please contact the national suicide prevention hotline at 800-273-8255.

Thanks to Fables Books, 215 South Main Street in downtown Goshen, Indiana, for providing Commons Comics with books to review.

Check Fables out online at www.fablesbooks.com, order over the phone at 574-534-1984, or email them at fablesbooks@gmail.com.

“Loneliness is an emergency,” writes Kristen Radtke in a 2021 New York Times Book Review article. Radtke’s statement isn’t off the cuff. She’s been researching loneliness for her newest graphic narrative, “Seek You” since 2016, when she became disturbed and intrigued by the storm of isolation and paranoia swirling around the ugly presidential election year. The fear and suspicion that she was feeling as well as seeing around her, she discovered, were predictable side effects of a divided culture.

As she split her time between New York and Las Vegas, where she served as Art Director and Publisher for “The Believer” magazine, she began to notice Vegas’s distinct flavor of alienation, and the ways that it might serve as a microcosm of a form of isolation distinct to the U.S.:

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Chicago Comics Immersion: Three Exhibits to Visit Now

“Cartooning is a form of world-making,” reads the introductory text to the current comics exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Museum exhibits create immersive worlds, too, and I highly recommend three mini comics worlds contained in Chicago, listed below in order of how soon they’re going to disappear:

“Chicago Comics: 1960 to Now,” Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) https://mcachicago.org/Exhibitions/2021/Chicago-Comics-1960s-To-Now, $15, through October 3

“Marvel Universe of Super Heroes,” Museum of Science and Industry https://www.msichicago.org/explore/whats-here/exhibits/marvel-universe-of-super-heroes/, $18, in addition to standard admission, through October 24 (some weekends are sold out)

“Chicago: Where Comics Came to Life (1880-1960),” Chicago Cultural Center, plus BONUS: MCA overflow exhibit in the Buddy space on the first floor, https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/comics.html, free, limited hours, through January 9

If you’re not familiar with Chicago comics, your first question might be, why Chicago rather than the coasts? The Cultural Center exhibit delves into the industrial history that made Chicago a national center of paper production in the mid-1800s, saving publishers in the Midwest and west from having to import paper from east coast mills. This foundational shift in supply lines led not only to a fount of newspapers in Chicago, but also to the freedom to innovate, especially evident in the weird, edgy, and experimental comics produced by publications like the Tribune and the African-American Chicago Defender.

As acclaimed Chicago cartoonist and co-curator Chris Ware explains in a recent New Yorker article, technical innovations also fueled the development of groundbreaking comics in Chicago papers. A Chicago engraver in the late 1800s first developed the ability to insert images within columns of newspaper text, and color printing techniques developed and continued to improve, eventually leading to stunning visual explosions like this:

From “American Vernacular,” by Chris Ware, The New Yorker, 28 Aug 2021. Image courtesy of Peter Maresca.

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“Why Art?” by Eleanor Davis

“Why Art?” by Eleanor Davis. Fantagraphics Books. February 2018. 200 pp. Paper, $14.99. Adult.

Thanks to Better World Books, 215 S. Main St. in Goshen, for providing me with books to review. You can find or order all of the books I review at the store.

You could read this book in a flash. It’s short. It’s small. You could fold the almost life-sized hands on the cover into your own hands, then carry the book around with you, slipping it in and out of your bag as you enter and exit lines at the grocery store or the bank. I recommend that you read the book this way. Then I also recommend that you sit down with it and give it a second or third read, the time it deserves.

Illustrator and cartoonist Eleanor Davis is finally making a living on her art. Once you learn her style, you’ll see her all over the place. Check out her personal website, and you’ll see work that appeared in “The New York Times,” as well as “The New Yorker.” She’s designed Google doodles, and illustrations and posters for nonprofits like the Bronx Freedom Fund and musicians like Sylvan Esso and the Decemberists. She’s also well known for her work for kids and young adults: her 2008 TOON Book “Stinky” won her the first of many awards to come as her career progressed.

Perhaps to resist being pigeonholed, some of Davis’s recent work has been decidedly adult. “This is an 18 & over twitter! Rude jokes. Sex drawings,” she warns @squinkyelo. Yet some of her recent work for adults has also become gut-wrenchingly sweet. After she wrote “Love Story,” as she admitted to the “Women and Comics” blog, her husband and fellow artist Drew Weing had a hard time believing its sincerity: “He thought there was a catch, some secret bitterness or joke I’d hidden inside there. There wasn’t, though. It’s just a happy story about folks.” Continue reading ““Why Art?” by Eleanor Davis”