paper perilPaper Peril
By Jean-Baptiste Bourgois
Fantagraphics

In Paper Peril, one cartoonist’s thoughtful meditation on artistic exploration and evolution employs a playful simplicity to evoke some extremely complicated ideas. The first pages, rendered in simple lines which placed chaotically, exude a childlike wonder at ultimate power, the realization that what is on the page belongs to the artist, comes from the artist, and is ultimately beholden to the artist’s will. It’s gleeful and sinister at the same time, and it introduces what follows — the journey to this point.

All good artists know their voice, and Bourgois recollects how he came to understand what his voice was, a process of taking in the work of other artists, even trying on his own version of their voices in order to find himself within him. It’s also a process of recognizing styles and hovering between complication and simplicity, at varying times edging one way or the other. But Bourgous also offers times when simplicty and complexity are one, as in spreads where the the white, the absence of drawings, overtakes his figures in an extreme way.

paper peril

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In Paper Peril, Bourgois characterizes the qualities each artist has as a cloak, and as he explores his own qualities, the visualization becomes a long, sewn-together piece of fabric from each thread that he grabs. The process of artistic growth is one of creating your own cloak, with some threads provided by the cloaks of others, and then allowing yourself to become engulfed by it.

Maybe the most important thing Bourgois does in Paper Peril is to weigh the concepts of simplicity and complication in visual terms, even as his words skirt around those very issues. As his work makes plain, complication is built from simplicity. A complicated image begins with one line, and it’s up to the artist whether only three lines follow or a hundred.

The same with thoughts. They begin with one question, and it’s the thinker who directs how much further the thinking will go. Will one answer to one question suffice? Or is there so much more to be captured in the process?

paper peril

In approaching the work like this, Bourgois is providing guidance to building on ideas and images, and also depicting how ideas and images work together. For an adult reading this, especially a visually creative one, it’s easy to enjoy the processes referred to and how they are expressed, but for any kid who might read it, it’s sure to be a more subtle enrichment over time, as any good children’s book would be. And Bourgois’ drawings are such that they give a lot to look at over a period of time, allowing for not only discovery, but rediscovery, and eventually recognition.

Being part of the Fantagraphics Underground imprint implies that Paper Peril might be too heady and too mature for kids, too raw even. But it’s the exact opposite. Taking the concepts of artistic growth and putting them into this simple, fun fable-like monologue is probably something a lot of kids can really latch onto. The drawings are relatable and funny, the metaphors understandable and compelling, and the truth of a process so many go through is something a kid will hearken back to at a certain. But, sure, adults will love this, too, thanks to Bourgois’ ability to make what he portrays so accessible and whimsical.