Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Yeast Hoist #12
Stop Thinking, Start Seeping - Stop Sleeping, Start Living
by Ron Regé, Jr.

Of all the major-league cartoonists, I don't think anyone's work consistently challenges me as much as that of Ron Regé, Jr. Even the most "difficult" cartoonist, after a while, becomes familiar, and even when the subject matter may be abstruse a familiarity of style allows the reader to be propelled along by a more-or-less secure understanding of visual context. There is something about Regé's style that seems, to me, designed to repel the reader, to consciously inhibit the same kind of environmental recognition that makes a cartoonist's most outlandish and intimate conceits ring true in the context of a strip.

Perhaps the key element in my chronic discomfort is the fact that few cartoonists' work is so consciously one-dimensional. It's an interesting effect: almost all of Regé's work is executed with the same unerringly clean and thin ink line. Never having seen him draw, I would hazard a guess that he uses technical pens or even magic markers. There is no other explanation: the idea of anyone producing such a faultlessly even line with a traditional brush is simply fantastic. Varying line weight is such a basic tool in the cartoonist's repertoire that the lack of it can produce any number of disorienting effects. Looking at one of Regé's pages instills a kind of vertigo, a momentary confusion as the eye struggles with the brain to understand the unorthodox composition without benefit of line weight or even -- for the most part -- spotted blacks to create the illusion of depth. Instead, what we see is a static field of depthless dimension, the kind of geometrically ornate design that requires considerable "work" in order to parse.

The latest edition of Regé's ungoing but unorthodox Yeast Hoist series is a sketchbook of sorts, compiling material culled from a period between 1997 and 2002. As with the best sketchbooks, there's a great deal of different material here, providing the reader with many layers of enjoyment. From the casual flip-through that provides a few startling moments to the more concentrated front-to-back absorption, there's enough to provide enjoyment through multiple readings. I don't know whether to be startled or impressed by the fact that Regé's style remains so faultlessly recognizable through the course of the book. There is very much the impression that Regé's style is so effortlessly natural that he can think of no other possible mode -- even offhand doodles and abstract designs are delivered in his unmistakable style. Some artists are chameleons, able to change their style to fit their subject, while others possess the ability to see all subjects through a faultlessly consistent style in such a way as to effectively transform the world.

Like hieroglyphs or early modernist painting, Regé purposefully eschews the illusion of stereoscopic depth in order to create a piece that proudly inhabits a two-dimensional space. The first pages of the book are filled with landscapes -- urban tableaus and pastoral imagery -- and the dichotomy between subject and style creates an engrossing effect. The effort required to translate the imagery into cohesive compositions draws the viewer inward. Some of the most arresting moments in the book occur when brief sequential passages are placed side-by-side on the page with doodles and designs. The way in which the overall volume has been designed is almost reminiscent of an illuminated manuscript, wherein form and function of decorative art placed alongside narrative art are indistinguishable.

Looking at one of Regé's pages it is impossible not to be reminded of Gary Panter, another artist who exploits the page as a depthless plain. But whereas Panter's subject matter is heady and at times even baroque, Regé's work is defined by a conflict between sheer fantasy and mundane pseudo-autobiography. Regé presents a unique case of style elevating limited subject matter beyond the constraints of what could otherwise be considered pedestrian concerns. The way in which he draws is inevitably as interesting as what he actually draws, and the disconnect between material, representative reality and emotionally-charged narrative that lies at the heart of his work can produce a sublime euphoria.

(Purchase the book here. Sorry, no Amazon linky.)

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