By James Nash
We looked at James Nash’s diary comics The Present Is Not A Purgatory (Diary Comics 2008) and Speaking Not Knowing (Diary Comics 2009) last year, and I was very impressed, both with his innovative “skyscraper format” (as coined by Matthew Craig) of A3 sized sheets folded lengthways and his carefully constructed, scratchy solid strokes describing a day in three panels.
With his 2010 diary strip collection Something Reductive Nash has changed format and now presents his work, still as three-panel per day diary entries, but in a broadsheet newspaper format:
(Nash’s back cover to Something Reductive – huge! And looks so good)
I’m really impressed with the new broadsheet format, and just looking at the front and back cover promises so much. His art is really enlarged here, and it looks so very good at this bigger scale.
The problem comes when you open the paper up. Nash has kept his column format - so each broadsheet page has two columns, to be read separately. There’s a small problem retraining the comic reading eyes to stop going across the whole width of the page, but a more serious problem is that his broadsheet pages are just crammed full of his art, there’s little space between the columns, and it all seems too cramped with 20 strips per double page spread:
This may well be because Nash draws his strips in the 3 panel format and this is the only way he can get them all into one comic.
But there’s a double page spread in the middle of the paper where he alters it slightly and there are just 8 strips on the double page and it looks so much better and really shows off his art to it’s best.
However, let’s stop looking at what might be, stop concentrating so much on the formatting and actually look at the work itself.
Nash’s autobiography is pretty much a standard thing, as he recounts various moments of his life, with all the risks of sounding like a self-absorbed whiner that come with it. And although there is an awful lot of sitting around and bemoaning, it’s very well done sitting around and bemoaning.
But more than that, Nash is exhibiting an increased awareness of his life, and consequently his work. Nash actually acknowledges it right at the start – opening up to a stranger (and his audience) about his embarassment over his miserable 2009, and his dislike for the strips that came from that period:
(First strip of the year in James Nash’s Something Reductive)
Nash always has a sense of self about him. He’s almost hyper aware of his failings, and is never slow in bringing them up. Sometimes it feels a little too whiny, but most of the time he’s spot on, just skating that thin line between whiny and astute, truthful observer. Again, because of the snapshot, episoodic nature of doing a diary strip – sticking to two/three panels per day, you don’t get a full picture of the artist here, merely pieces of a life, intriguing, inviting you to piece together moments around the carefully chosen events.
But somewhere very early on the tone changes and it’s no longer Nash making a comic about his life, instead it’s become Nash making a comic about his life making a comic. It’s something that’s infiltrating everything he does, is never that far from his thoughts, and starts to overwhelm him (and us) at times. It’s something of the autobiog artist’s nightmare in a way. The comic becomes everything. Not only are you obsessing over it, but amongst your intimate circle – family, friends, relationships – they all read your work as well. So suddenly it stops being something observational – a sort of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle of comic autobiography.
It adds a fascinating extra element to Nash’s work. Yet it’s also a very dangerous place to be, both personally and creatively. Go too far and the work (and your life) becomes dreary and uninspired. Thankfully, somewhere around halfway through Something Reductive Nash begins opening up again, both in topics and, quite wonderfully, in his artwork. His observational style, his obsessing about comics settles down somewhat towards the end of the year, his diary strips reflect more on music and relationships again.
(Something Reductive by James Nash – 06/11/2010 – lovely body language in that second panel, lovely lines, smooth and flowing yet angular as well)
I talked about the development his art showed in between 2008 and 2009. And it’s still improving all the time through 2010. His lines are refined, his figures more flowing yet still angular and interesting, his backgrounds more detailed and defined. But that in itself causes problems, especially trying to fit 10 strips to the page. The art here is definitely outgrowing the small scale, tightly packed panels he uses throughout most of Something Reductive.
Towards the end of the year there’s a noticeable increase in space, as Nash opens up, really begins to utilise the negative space more in his art, there’s a lot more white, blank space here, a lot more chance to see how lovely his art actually is. Like I pointed out at the start, some of the very best stuff happens on the pages where Nash ditches his 3 panel, double column layout and simply expands his art to fill the whole page – then you really have to catch your breath, as his thick black line art really becomes something so simplistic, so powerful.
(Something Reductive 16 & 17 Nov 2010 – a more striped down style developing towards the end of the year, and it’s a very nice development)
I’m hopeful that 2011/12 will see much more from Nash – not just another set of diary comics, but hopefully something longer, maybe a concentrated burst of autobiog rather than the day by day work of the diary comics, maybe something else. I certainly think he’s got much, much more waiting to burst out, and I’ll be around expectantly to see it.