Elsewhere (Japanese Notebook), Gary Sullivan, 2005

Elsewhere is a poetic comic art essay on the blurry boundaries of subjectivity, individuality, context and the space between cultures. It is composed of remixed snapshot-based visual travel notes and notebook entries of odd, translated phrases rendered into a truly fused form of poetry/comics. The vibe, scale, pacing and continuity of the book is close to avant-garde film. It’s as if the Kuchar brothers were making art composed of comics, flip books, poetry, and Flickr blogs.

Sullivan uses a lot of humor, and embraces the weirdness of an unfamiliar cultural environment, as well as the oddness of seeing another culture’s interpretations of yours. There is a sense of balancing the discomfort of unfamiliarity with it’s charms.

Much of the material at play in Elsewhere is composed of material taken from the public surfaces of Japan, and then remixed: signage and advertising art. In this sense the book is close to a straight-forward travelogue addressing a public space in which one is an outsider. These materials are remixed into a poetic fantasy-space, as if Little Nemo In Slumberland was addressing issues of cultural context rather than the daily, dislocating experience of dreaming and waking.

There is an indirectness of relation between the text and art which is not at all a disconnection. They are like two simultaneous layers moving intriguingly out of phase, but the phase patterns add harmonic depth to the overall effect, as in Steve Reich. There is space allowed between the images and the lines that allows for breath in the overall coherence of the art.

A feeling of balanced elements which might seem to be inherently in conflict is constantly maintained. For instance, there are moments when a cute quality and a disturbing quality are perfectly fused. The book adjusts to accommodate such combinations. Details which can be dizzying, beautiful, funny, nightmarish, infantile, and strange are fused within the space of a few panels.

The panels work individually and in groups, and this creates a feeling of integrity on the micro and macro scales. There is a strong overall sense of rhythm and build-up that rewards multiple readings. Sullivan also allows the material to have a certain diffused or relaxed energy despite considerable wackiness and strangeness.

There are certain challenges and stresses that come along with using multiple art forms, and I can only hope these don't slow Gary down too much. I doubt they will. Considering the amount of talent in evidence in this book, I look forward to seeing a full-length graphic novel-type project.

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