The key to understanding Frank Santoro’s work in Escape to the Unfinished #2 lies in the feelings memories evoke. A river running under a multi-span bridge, a silhouette standing at the end of a hiking trail in the woods, an industrial building surrounded by overgrown vegetation. All of these anchored by the recurring image of a woman. She’s on the cover of the book, and throughout multiple panels in the comic, always looking directly at the reader. The whole comic is framed on fragments of memories. It’s mostly silent, with a single exchange between two characters in the whole comic. “Dad, what are you thinking about?” asks a daughter to her father. Several panels of vegetation and looks at the woman and the man replies “your mother“.
This is the second issue of UK publisher Breakdown Press sketchbook anthology series. It’s a great idea really, the sketchbook as a narrative. It allows the artist to repurpose unfinished, or unpolished art and turn into a relatively coherent comic. There’s a refreshing simplicity in this concept. The first issue by Joe Kessler was a series of illustrations and short stories about childhood. This one is about melancholia. By simply presenting scenery and tying it to the memory of a loved one, Santoro manages to create feelings of sorrow and heartache.
It helps that Santoro’s work looks unique. The art is in black and white, but the pages have two panels separated evenly in a purple grid. The risography printing helps to create thick lines of black and surprising effect where the black ink starts sputtering onto the purple grid giving a sort of otherworldly feeling. Almost as if the memories begin to blend into each other. It’s wonderful. There’s also this trick Santoro uses here, as he did in his comic Pompeii, where he simply writes what is supposed to be seen. The shore under a bridge isn’t drawn so much as described as such. In a comic about memories, having these simple description is smart. Sometimes, you remember something for what it is, not necessarily it’s details.
This issue is unfortunately sold out, though I have spotted a copy at Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal, so I assume one could still track down a copy with enough research. It’s worth the effort just to experience the emotions this short little comic.
Escape to the Unfinished #2
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.