Aidan Koch is one of a group of artists who I’ve been scoping out online for a few months, really excited about the work I’ve seen. Her approach to comics is rooted in more traditional arts, bringing an exciting use of color and painterliness in her work. Her layouts are inventive and her drawings easily veer away from the naturalistic.
With her work on my radar, I was extremely excited to see she had a new book coming out, The Whale. It would be, I believe, the first release of Blaise Larmee‘s newly minted Gaze Books. So, I was extremely excited when out of nowhere I got a copy of the new book in the mail. It’s taken me way too long for me to write my thoughts about it, but there’s never a better time than the present.
I love a nice, small square-bound book, and based on Young Lions, I was sure that the production on The Whale would be great. Even with the most minimal colors, Koch’s graphite drawings look great. My package also came with a small handful of related postcards, each equally as nice as the cover.
The comic itself is concerned with a girl clearly dealing with a loss. I’ll resist going into too much plot detail, because it’s really the kind of thing where the story, or rather the emotions, are communicated specifically though the art. Explanatory words divorced from the context miss the point. It’s all less about what is happening than how it’s happening. Things barely progress, which fits the mental state of the focal character.
On first glance there’s a superficial resemblance to Young Lions, at least my recollection of it. There’s a similar grid structure in Aidan’s book, but upon side-by-side comparison of the two books, the differences are pretty significant, actually. Whereas Blaise has very cartoony figures (flat modeling, thin outlines, exaggerated figures), Koch is still rooted in modular drawing. She pays a good deal more attention to environments as a whole, the beach we return to throughout the book playing an important role. It’s the main link through which we arrive at the book’s title, a metaphor introduced towards the end of the book that serves to identify where our narrator is in her life.
It’s a very self-focused comic, in the way one’s thoughts can become trapped when dealing with a particularly painful loss. There are several panels of literal shoe-gazing, and even the margin serves to box in the narrative. My absolute favorite page/panel is a scene where the girl is out on the empty ocean sharing empty word balloons with no one. It’s a quiet book, short and isn’t making any grand statements. I happen to have enjoyed it quite a bit, though in a few ways I can’t help but think about what it could have been.
I think the biggest “could-have-been” of it all is that it’s a black and white book. I can understand certainly the limitations involved with launching a publishing venture, and you know, for what it is, it’s a really nice book. The problem is I was basically set up by my expectations of what Aidan Koch could do with a full book. Essentially, The Whale is missing most of what I find so exciting and compelling about her comics. I like The Whale, and I recommend it for sure. However, it’s left me very hungry to see what Koch can really do.
I really look forward to seeing more from her. They’re having a release party for this book tonight out in Portland, and I hope they have a great time. Wishing all the best of luck to Gaze Books. Do yourself a favor, get a copy of The Whale and then after you’ve read it, check out some of Koch’s other comics experiments. You can check out a preview at Arthur Magazine.