Erasure and Sampling: Young Lions

Posted by on May 5th, 2010 at 5:10 AM

Rob reviews Blaise Larmee’s Xeric grant-winning book, YOUNG LIONS.

Blaise Larmee is an artist obsessed with the underpinnings of art and a hyperacute awareness of an artist’s relationship with both one’s peers and the culture at large. Writing frequently at the Comets Comets blog, Larmee’s comics are an extension of his own aesthetic theories. Though these theories frequently seem incoherent and self-contradictory, there’s an interesting mind at work in his comics nonetheless. I think that incoherency is part of a calculated persona (as his clear admiration of Yoko Ono hints at), but that’s neither here nor there. It is difficult to separate Larmee’s theories from his actual work, so all I can do is take both at face value.

Many of my favorite comics by Larmee have been aggressively abstract comics that nonetheless contained a thread of theme or narrative. His use of color in particular has been quite interesting in the way it moves the eye across the page. YOUNG LIONS was submitted for a Xeric grant, and as such, it’s a much more conventional sort of narrative. It’s the story of a cadre of bored performance artists looking for a new inspiration, and finding it in the form of a fresh-faced young girl. They take a road trip with her as a means of trying to determine her worthiness as an addition to their group, but she is ultimately found wanting.

There are any number of ways to examine this comic. Visually, this is the comics equivalent of sampling. Structurally, Larmee favors the most basic of page & panel designs, which fits into his stated desire of having a template of sorts for comics that would allow artists to concentrate on only the image–not how the image is manipulated. The images in the comic itself are haunting and beautiful, as Larmee openly repurposed Chris “C.F.” Forgues’ wispy line and combined it with Amanda Vahamaki’s rendering her adult figures as children.

Where Larmee differs in his visual approach is the relationship between the characters and their environment. For CF and Vahamaki, the environment is a dreamlike (or nightmarish) world that the characters interact with. Larmee’s backgrounds are minimalist at best, giving the characters a sense of floating from panel to panel. The characters fill up the panels, adding an additional charge to the ways in which they exist with relation to each other. Each panel feels almost like a geometric theorem of sorts, as the reader must deduce relationships and meaning based on the ways characters move in space.  The key to reading this comic is understanding that space is a much more important consideration than time, which has almost no importance.  That creates an interesting tension, given that sequencing panels is all about creating the illusion of movement of both object and time.   Meaning is deliberately elusive here, as Larmee deliberately uses partially erased and barely-drawn lines as part of his storytelling.

Three lines of dialogue seem to hint at Larmee’s ultimate aims: “…I hate to break it to you, but original content doesn’t exist. It’s dead.”; “Like many dreamers, you mistake disenchantment for truth.”; and “Art becomes magic when it has nothing left to hide.” Unpacking these ideas, the first statement seems to relate closely to both Larmee’s visual approach. His “sampling” is not the act of an artist simply biting someone else’s style, but rather a deliberate statement of purpose–in a world with no original content, only conceptual art or repurposed art has a chance of saying something interesting.

The second statement seems to be the kind of self-critique that pervades his critical writing, a backing away from a ridiculous or dead-end premise after the initial spirited statement of disenchantment. It’s a sort of emotional and philosophical outburst, a rant disguised as a thesis statement. The third statement seems to aim at Larmee’s ultimate goal: the transformation of art into magic. His characters perform rituals as the substance of their art, and one senses that Larmee’s goal is the transformation of the dead image into a living, breathing entity.

At the moment, I think Larmee is perhaps too transfixed and dependent upon the idea of youth being the definitive incubator for this sort of magic to understand that it’s just another played-out dead end. While he’s commenting ironically on hipster youth culture, it’s clear that he considers this to be his tribe, for better or worse. YOUNG LIONS is a necessary stage of development, one where Larmee is acutely aware of his influences. While it may feel cutting-edge for Larmee now, it’s the kind of comic that the artist himself won’t be able to properly contextualize until much later in his career.

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