Illustration in “Indestructible”

 

I recently finished reading Indestructible by Cristy C. Road and have been thinking of the way the illustrations and formatting of the text function within the work and relate to the context of our class. I have no brilliant ideas as I begin writing this, and am instead now using this as a format to consider a possible relationship. I may expand this idea later after finishing the graphic novel Sexile and our discussions in class next week.

There are about 20 images that accompany the fifteen chapters of Indestructible. The text of the work is a visual element that contributes greatly to the overall feel of the novel, as it shifts between style, size, and spacing. I’ll start with the text.

For the most part, the text in the novel looks as if it was typewritten as it appears in a similar font. Contrasting this typewritten quality is the almost (but not quite) handwritten (you could argue drawn or cut out) chapter headings that loom at the top of each chapter and counting up to fifteen and possibly alluding to progress or movement. At times the formatting changes from double spaced to single space or appearing as if the page is Xerox-scanned by being at a slant, while at other times the font itself changes. These formatting choices feel DIY and reference Road’s involvement in zine publication and placing the novel within that context and triggering associations (punk rock, political activism, art, personal writings, sexual writings, and self-publication/representation). I guess the main point I am getting at is how these choices in publication draw attention to the choices of the author more so than if traditional font choices had been used and emphasizes the process that went into the work.

From here I’ll move on to the visual art component of the illustrated story. These 20 or so illustrations appear to me to be done with pens/markers/fluid-bodied acrylics, but could also have been done on the computer or even a combination of the two. These works are black and white (perhaps emphasizing the Xerox quality of the work) and incredibly detailed. Again emphasizing the presence of the author/illustrator (Road). Each illustration presents a scene related to the text in the chapter it accompanies.

What struck me most about these illustrations were two things: the expressiveness of the characters and the use of space in each scene. The first illustration we see (besides the cover) is a DIY yearbook-esque pasting of the main characters and the author staring at the viewer. This introduction enhances the over-all feel of the story, as a series of anecdotes about life as a high school, especially those that deal with her punk influenced friend group (the ‘burnout corner’). From here we meet the author as a young adolescent who is starring angrily out at the reader/viewer and helps develop the image of Road as an angsty, confrontational teen who does not want to compromise herself to meet the desires of others (at times). A few of the characters in the story make the same facial expression in almost every illustration. Eugene and Selene in particular make pretty much the same face in every illustration they appear in, perhaps emphasizing the ways these characters were idealized by Road, Selene being the object of infatuation/identification and Eugene as being the first person to affirm Road’s queerness as something valuable. These are visual elements that I think enhance the textual, and vice versa. Bodily elements are emphasized in the illustration by depicting body hair, placing the figures crowded into the fore-ground, and focusing on less idealized facial expressions. Perhaps in so doing, Road is representing her development of a positive relationship between her body and her self.

I could probably investigate the expressive line-work that creates the characters, the way Road places the characters in relation to one another, but I think what is really interesting to me is the way the characters are placed within the settings they inhabit, and the way in which Road depicts the environments surrounding the characters.

All the figures in the illustrations are contextualized by the space they are in. From the playground scene which juxtaposes Road’s aggressive expression with the implied innocence of the playground, yet the (perpetual) gray sky and the shadowed playground are also looming figures or fading into the distance, expressing Road’s awkward growing into her developing body her “uneasy method of growing up”. Most of the backgrounds depict liminal spaces such as doorways, hallways, or boundaries, a possible reference to the state of adolescence as impermanent or reflecting all the process through which Road intentionally built or tore down barriers between her and others. These spaces are also both expansive and shallow, extending into the background through illusory line work but also solidifying through that very linework into ominous ‘dead ends’ of solid color meeting a heavy, gray sky. I feel that this emphacizes the promise of potential (finding a community of those who accept you, of finding self-love), but also the pessimism of living in a world that may be harmful to some people. It also is potentially related to Road’s periods of optimism and happiness and bouts of sadness.

Overall, the illustrative work in Road’s Indestructible is compelling to me in it’s sheer expressive potential, it’s clever use of layout, line work, and shading and is very effective in developing Road’s affirmation of bodiliness, queerness, sexuality, and living.

Here is some of Road’s other works I enjoyed looking at:

KING OF CUPS:

Bridge Tommy

the day we dropped constriction

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“Welcome to the Global Stage” and “RMB City”: Imagining the Self of the Internet

I’m writing this blog post amidst half-done ceramic doll-people that comprise my (soon-to-be-finished) art thesis, and try as I might I’ve failed to come up with a topic that does not relate to art. On a related note, this is also my first ever blog-post. We’ll all see where this ends up.

After reading and discussing “Welcome to the Global Stage: Confessions of a Latina Cyber-Slut” within Juana María Rodríguez’s Queer Latinidad, I began rethinking an art project (based in cyberspace) by artist Cao Fei. I’ve been thinking about the ways in which Fei’s project illustrates many of the same phenomenon mentioned by Rodríguez in her tales of cyber adventures. Yet, I am also interested in the ways Fei’s work is more rooted in a DIY identity than the chat-room based experiences of Rodríguez, and how Fei’s work reflects a different sort of subjectivity. I think these differences demonstrate how different identities relate to the discursive space of the Internet.

Cao Fei is an artist I studied in my art theory class (major-requirement) and who was quite controversial for many of us art majors. Fei has worked in video, but as of 2005 she has become more and more interested with the Internet as a tool for art making, and as viewing art as a social practice. In general Fei is interested in how people mix their imagined or idealized identities with their real identitites and how the professional and public world can both nurture our fantasies and limit what identities we can perform or even what identities we can imagine. Fei is also interested in the ways people create private identities as coping mechanisms that allow them to deal with traumas as they navigate the social world. In the art piece “Whose Utopia”, for example, Fei provides light-bulb factory workers opportunities to re-imagine themselves and perform this new-self, and in so doing Fei hopes they can also re-value themselves outside the monetary valuing of the worker.

In 2006 Fei started the project “iMirror”, which is essentially the tale of her fictitious avatar, China (given name) Tracy (chosen name) withing the role-playing game of Second Life, which was/is popular in China. China Tracy is documented as she uses her body, an imitation of a female body, to explore the virtual world and how these performances and their patterns establish a sense of self. This to me is reminiscent to how Rodríguez reminds us that even in the body-less discursive space of the chat room, the imagining of the body is all encompassing and almost phatasmagorical. In iMirror, the exaggerated, expensive organs that Tracy aquires to become female encourage certain responses from other users and determining the type of social self that is developed. Eventually Tracy, like Rodríguez, develops a romantic relationship within Second Life, although exclusively with a male avatar. Generally, this space imposes a kind of heteronormativity or indulging in a male-fantasy of lesbianism that enforces heteronormativity (men role playing as female). Yet, like in the chat-room, the anonymity of Second Life does open up a broader possibility of relationships than most users would experience in real life (the possibility that both users are secretly male). Additionally, as with Rodríguez, Fei does learn about aspects of her lover from the real world. Eventually she does learn about her lover.

Over the course of her experiences as Tracy in Second Life, Fei comes to believe that the Internet is an allegorical exaggeration of aspects of the real world, and is not liberating. While the characters are free to create themselves and become hyper-sexual bodies, constraints from the real world impede upon any desire for liberation. Rodríguez comments upon how the discursive space of the chat-room is not free from cultural impediments from the real world (such as the ones that appear when she enters a lesbian chat room and is asked western-specific questions to determine her validity). As a result of this realization that Second Life is merely a reflection of the constraints of Real Life, Fei comes up with the idea to create her own world: “RMB City” (a word play in Chinese). In 2007 she created her own city for Second Life to open up some possibilities that were closed off to her in the normal parameters of Second Life. He overall goal was to make this city an allegorical version of the real world with utopian proclivities. She wanted something consciously designed and collaboratively made and have a collage-like quality. Eventually, an electoral system was implemented and users could vote for and be elected as mayor so as to implement and advocate for changes they desired. Overall, Cao Fei is interested in how RMB City is rooted in a Chinese subjectivity, and how RMB becomes a sort of space to deal with the trauma that occurs in the cultural clash between the “Eastern” and the “Western”.

Obviously there are major differences between Fei’s art projects (based in video-games) and Rodríguez’s experiences in language-based chatrooms. Yet, I feel there is something of a corollary to and expansion of the ideas that Rodríguez develops in the chapter. In addition, I am intrigued by the ways contrasting Fei’s project with Rodríguez’s emphasizes the ways in which both are rooted in a unique subjectivity.