Review: ‘Notes Over Yonder’ and ‘Tiger!Tiger!Tiger!’
Scott Morse – and I say this with a laugh as well as wonderment – has had an awfully long, varied, and successful comics career for a guy who is essentially unknown to the vast majority of the comics-shop crowd. He’s done a long series of fantasy graphic novels (Soulwind), a number of books for kids or for all ages (like the Magic Pickle series), and a pile of other things, on top of being a story artist and designer at Pixar. Why, in just the last two months he published these two, quite different, graphic novels:
Notes Over Yonder
By Scott Morse
Red Window/AdHouse, November 2008, $12.95
This is a small-format book, about 4” x 6”, with a single painting – each loose and just a bit sketchy, like a storyboard that hasn’t been overworked – on each of its sixty-four pages. It’s also close to wordless, with a few written messages. And it flows subtly back and forth, evoking the rhythms of a jazzy torch song or a quiet blues melody.
There’s a man in a city and another man on a small island – each has a cat (maybe even the same cat), and each has recently lost his woman, in very different ways. Each man also plays the guitar – and, come to think of it, that might be the same guitar as well. (I wouldn’t be at all surprised.) One of the men finds a way to go on, and one of them finds a different way – but their stories aren’t told separately (as the subtitle, ‘A Story in Two Parts,’ might seem to imply), but intertwined. We start with one man and move on to the other before returning.
Again, this is all wordless, so Morse doesn’t tell us where any of this is. His bright white lines and energetic caricatures draw us into the story, and we fill in those details ourselves. If Notes Over Yonder reads just a bit like the storyboards for a short animated film – probably one set entirely to a single instrumental song, mostly quiet and mournful – that’s only to be expect from a creator who thinks in moving pictures all day long. It’s a fine little story, and the art is particularly impressive.
By Scott Morse
Red Window/AdHouse, December 2008, $14.95
Tiger!Tiger!Tiger! is something else again, a semi-confessional graphic novel at album size (about the same number of pages), with a more multi-media approach that still mostly comes down to drawn or painted comics panels. The main character, who speaks to us directly, is Morse himself, though his painter’s heart appears wrapped in a tiger’s hide. (“You need a paper tiger to help you slow down and feel,” he explains, though this tiger looks fuzzier and more substantial than mere paper.)
Morse draws himself as a tiger – a cartoony, neotenic, three-heads-high tiger – to address the audience directly without having to draw his own face over and over again, and to talk about art and life at enough distance to allow a bit of daylight, or perspective, in. I found the first ten pages or so a bit hard to follow – each line or two that tiger-Morse speaks was separated from the lines before and after, as if he was skipping from thought to thought without connecting them. (I’m sure they all ran together perfectly well in his own head; the trouble with a story like this is, of course, that the creator must pull out his own thought processes and make them clear to people who aren’t in his head.)
Tiger!Tiger!Tiger! starts with nonspecific philosophizing, about art and life and family, and this part does feel unanchored, as if Morse is dumping years of his accumulated thoughts on these themes in a quick microburst. But then the story settles down to a more conventional narrative, first with the story of a day spent in the city of Oakland on jury duty, and then with another day (or, since it’s not entirely clear, possibly even later the same day) spent out at a pool and a park with his two-year-old son. Morse comes back to his big themes in these scenes, but they’re part of his thought processes – it’s what’s going through his head while something’s happening, rather than ruminations in a void.
Tiger!Tiger!Tiger! explicitly says that it’s “volume one,” so we can expect more stories of Morse as a tiger. I also note that, on the cover, the “I” in the first Tiger!, the “!” in the second one, and the “T” in the third are all in a contrasting color, spelling out I!T, which I’m sure has some deep meaning. Tiger!Tiger!Tiger! is a bit raw and still coming together, but it could mature into a pseudo-diary like Lewis Trondheim’s Little Nothings or push into the introspective territory of Eddie Campbell’s “Alec” books. It’s not quite that good yet, but it could easily hit that level – and, as in Notes Over Yonder, Morse’s art is energetic, immediately gripping, and thoroughly gorgeous.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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