Erasure, Time and Memory: The Whale

Posted by on January 3rd, 2011 at 6:17 AM

Rob reviews the recent comic by Aidan Koch, The Whale (Gaze Books).

Comics-as-poetry, a relatively recent development in comics, has unsurprisingly developed a number of branches and subgenres.  Any comic that favors elliptical storytelling rather than a straight narrative, that integrates word and image into a gestalt rather than isolates them as separate components, or that uses its visuals in a lyrical or rhythmic fashion can be said to fall into this category.  An interesting branch of this group is what I call the Erasure school.  Their comics are done entirely in pencil, and the lines that are erased or smeared are every bit as important as the ones that are actually drawn.  For Amanda Vahamaki, erasure is used to depict something like the waking dream of a child, a smudged world with weird logic.  For Gaze Books publisher Blaise Larmee, erasure is used in its most postmodern sense, cutting away at reality and reader preconceptions.  For Aidan Koch, erasure is a tool used to dig at memory and loss.

The key difference between what Koch does in The Whale and the other Erasure artists is that Koch’s narrative is essentially rooted in temporality as well as the material.  Time is virtually ignored by Vahamaki and Larmee, whereas in Koch’s thin narrative about a young woman’s attempt to cope with the loss of a partner, time is palpable and even oppressive.  Indeed, the only relief to be found here is in the particular: sea shells, rocks and pieces of wood–all rendered with a high level of detail.  These were objects that belonged to the woman’s dead partner, and returning them to the sea was the only thing that kept her attached to day-to-day life.  Everything else–people, dogs, the ocean, trees–are either fuzzily depicted or have details erased off the page.

This is a story about ghosts, where the young woman hallucinates seeing her lover as a fuzzily-defined ghost while in a rowboat but also perceives others as spectral, unreal figures.  As far as she’s concerned, there’s not much of a difference.  More to the point, she sees herself as a ghost, as someone not fully able to interact with her surroundings and friends, no matter how much they express their sympathy and concern.  She alludes to trying to kill herself by throwing herself into the ocean, only to find herself drifting back to shore.  This is the source of the titular comparison: a beached whale that had gotten lost and eventually died.   The young woman similarly wonders how she will know what to do next and “where to go from here”, and no answers are forthcoming as she shouts into the ocean.

The unspoken question in this slender graphic novella is: if time heals all wounds, just how long does it take?  Time here is a cruel force, as each moment is endless and torturous.  Each moment only reinforces just how alone, how adrift she is, and it’s difficult to differentiate one moment from the next.  Only by concentrating on material objects that represented him and allowing nature to reclaim them does she draw any solace, but even that activity has an end in sight.  There’s no easy resolution here, as the material objects that provide some comfort are running out without her beating the ravages of time and the pain each moment brings.  The implication is that she may well cast herself back into the sea if she can’t find a way to root herself back to the land and rejoin society.  The last image is her walking away from the ocean, but it certainly doesn’t occur after an epiphany.  She does perhaps realize that there is no epiphany to be had from beyond; instead, there is only her own will to live or die on a given day.   If memory can be blunted by the passage of time instead of being crystallized in agonizing fashion, Koch suggests, then her character will find a way to continue.  Whether or not this actually happens is not important to the feeling that Koch is trying to get across.

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2 Responses to “Erasure, Time and Memory: The Whale

  1. Erasure? That sounds like a bad synth-pop band. Oh wait…it is. I forgot.

  2. div cher says:

    I like to think of Blaise Larmee as keyboardist Vince Clarke to Aidan Koch as singer Andy Bell in the Neu Erasure Skuul.

    I like to think of all 4 of them collaborating on a post-mumblecore film titled ‘I Made an Erasure and it Felt Nice.’

    I like to think of a creamsicle.