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sabato 14 giugno 2014

It Never Happened Again

Sam Alden, Uncivilized Books, Minneapolis (USA), May 2014, 164 pages b/w, softcover, $ 11.99. 

I've talked about Sam Alden several times and I recently tried to introduce his work in this Wicked Chicken Queen review. Now I'd like to come back on the Portland-born author, currently based in Montreal, in the occasion of the release of his first book, It Never Happened Again, published by Uncivilized Books, a label that month after month is building an impressive catalog.
The book contains Hawaii 1997, already seen online, and a new piece, Anime. If you've never looked at Sam Alden's comics, at first glance you'll be impressed by the drawings. His pencils show the very nature of the medium and in their purity they give the feeling of looking at the original art. The pages are full of lines, marks, gray and black spots. The line work is neither realistic nor naturalistic. When in Hawaii 1997 the two children are running on the beach, they turn into two abstract figures. The representation of the night sky recalls instead the Impressionists. Alden isn't seeking the verisimilitude but the emotions of the reader. The emotional and communicative aspect is at the heart of his cartooning. The relationship between artist and audience is incredibly direct and even by merely looking at his panels you'll have the feeling that they've been drawn only for you.

Then there are the stories, both of the highest standard. The first, Hawaii 1997, is autobiographical and tells a nighttime encounter on the beach with a little girl. In the young, awkward and scared protagonist, portrayed with eyeglasses almost bigger than he is, there are already the subjects that Alden would have developed in his more mature stories, such as the excellent Household and Backyards. The same themes come back in the new Anime. Janet is a young tour guide, alienated and unhappy. At home, in the evening, she watches Japanese cartoons along with her boyfriend. Her manic obsession for anime pushes her to organize a trip to Japan, but the holiday will not be the breakthrough she had imagined. The plot and some situations remind of Adrian Tomine, but Alden has his own unique approach. His propriety of language is most evident in the mute sequences, which are placed in a central position and have the task of disclosing the key events of the stories, as well as provide an element common to both comics, giving uniformity to the book. So in Anime there is a sequence showing the two characters and then only Janet from behind. Alternating between night and day, it makes us see the development of their relationship and Janet withdrawing in herself. And when the characters speak again, the dialogues are simply strengthening what the author already showed only with the drawings.
I found the endings very fitting. In Hawaii 1997 the last sentence told by the girl to the author as a young man is symbolic, and it encompasses the same concept of melancholy. Anime has instead a more enigmatic closing, which leaves a hint of hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. It Never Happened Again shows how it's possible to create comics loaded ​​of feelings and emotions without being rhetorical nor banal and confirms Alden as one of the greatest contemporary cartoonists.

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