Friday, December 18, 2009

Pim & Francie

 Robert Boyd

Pim & Francie, by Al Columbia.

I just want to write a brief note about this book. (As an aside, I confess that it is hard for me to write "brief notes"--which are a totally appropriate form for a blog--especially when writing about books. My instinct, which is almost wholly guilt-driven, is to write full-length reviews.) Al Columbia is outrageously talented, but has seemed uncomfortable with the idea of doing comics for a long time. This discomfort has manifested itself in many ways, mostly in the fact that he is not a terribly prolific cartoonist.

This discomfort continues in Pim & Francie, where the art is presented as a collection of objects. Like an art book or a historical museum displaying paper ephemera in vitrines, Columbia shows us art not cleaned up for reproduction, but with visible pencil lines, yellowing, stains, tears, etc. All of this adds up to creating a collection of paper objects rather than a comic. But there is a comic here, too. Columbia is really exploring the tension between paper objects and art for reproduction.

The damaged nature of the pages reflects the content--the continuous terror inflicted on the child protagonists, Pim and Francie, as they face murderers, zombies, monsters, and each other. There is a certain cheap irony here--the characters resemble 1920s cartoon characters, but do terrible things in terrible ways to one another. Where cartoon characters would often inflict horrific violence on one another, they don't die, nor do they really have the blood and guts of a "real" person--in Pim and Francie's world, there are blood and guts aplenty. Columbia's genuinely creepy drawings push past the irony, but what really makes it work is the damaged "real" quality of the pages being reproduced here. There is a terrible ambiguity there--are these pages documents? And if so, are they documents of horrific events, or of one cartoonist's depravity? Or is it a carefully constructed illusion of documentary evidence?

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