When I experience a creative block, I find comfort in the unfinished art, unused ideas and rendered thoughts of my favorite artists and writers. They are just about all the stimulation I can handle. But, more importantly, they assure me that there is virtue in the process, even if it leads to incompleteness. Sketchbooks provide the cables I need to jumpstart my batteries, but with some irony. Here, the movement is usually not forward as much as deliberately circular, like in a Ferris wheel. It is exactly the kind of thoughtless frisson of excitement I seek. It is predictable, palpable and yet thrilling, with a definite end. When the ride stops, I will have unwound and reached a state of relaxed alertness.
Brandon Graham gets me there with his randomness and pop-culture nostalgia. This particular sketchbook of his is a bric-a-brac melting pot with all his tongue-in-cheek playfulness and purposely terrible handwriting, spelling, and some excellent graffiti-calligraphy. Unlike his main works, his sketchbook is more organic; Here, his drawings evolve and fill up space as he goes along, but at the same time, everything he draws is measured and proportioned, and makes sense as a whole. He brings a comical anachronism to his work. He appropriates pieces from reality and incorporates them in his avant-garde retro-futuristic steampunk world, so that his fantasy happens in a commonplace that is bound in a fuzzy space between the immediate-past and the near-future in an alternate world!
He is fixated with pastiche, so half the fun is in the discovery, and the other half is in making sense of that discovery, and feeling smug about cracking all the memes, the allusions, his weird humor full of cheesy wordplay and idiosyncrasies, and finding all the trivialities. You are required to have your eyes peeled at all times. You see close-ups and long distant views of the same things from different perspectives, each revealing something the other does not. I am almost afraid to make eye-contact with any part of a page, or dive in and explore a reef of drawings, because I might get lost in there forever, and will have to force-rip my eyes off of that part of the page to get to another part. And then, I am nervous that I may have moved on prematurely without taking everything that he had to offer!
He has a lot of fun with products, brand names, warning and instruction labels, and advertisements. There are clues to his many literary and artistic influences in the way he structures his story and does his artwork. His bubbles capture the shapes and sounds of everything visible, so that they are all exploding to say something. Text and objects get mixed up and lifeforms become things, and things become lifeforms and everything’s a deconstructed version of something familiar that now serves an unexpected and odd purpose. It is as if the alien city in his book is conjoined with our post-modern urban aesthetic at the hip. The ingenuity and absurdity of the modded contraptions in his book may be difficult to replicate in the near future with our limited technology. But, there are some kickstarter projects there waiting to be created in our cyberpunk future!
Sometimes I haven’t the slightest what some of his sketches are about. Those, I pretend are in a different language (some of them really are), and I decode them in my own way.
Walrus is a great book to pick up ideas on what to read next (as is his blog and his interviews. See here and here). Seeing your favorite authors mentioned in fine print in some corner of a busy page full of drawings, makes them seem like they are all part of the same cool club, and you have somehow become a part of it by recognizing that! He also takes a lot of mainstream comic characters and puts them in his sci-fi world. It’s like finding Spider-Man in Spirited Away. But, you also find yourself in it, with him, and his wife and co-artist, Marian, so that the sketchbook is a fourth-wall-breaking self-reflexive adventure of love-puppies and comic heroes in a Walrus world!
You would wonder how an artist who indulges in sillyness in every bubble moves a plot along. That’s if you haven’t read King City or Multiple Warheads. His serialized comic books detailed from the macro to the very micro will tell you how it’s done!
(Plug: Here's an assorted collection of graphic works I love from India. It is called Obliterary Journal and is one of my favorites.
I devoured the first volume wholly, entirely and many times. It's funny how it keeps coming back alive, to be devoured again and again. I'm waiting for my parents to visit and bring me the second volume from India. It's so pricey here).