Speaking Without Words
Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes takes a look at Joe Kessler’s The Gull Yettin out now from New York Review Of Books…
The Gull Yettin
Writer/ artist: Joe Kessler
New York Review Of Books
A young boy is violently orphaned and thrown out of his familiar life into something stranger and harsher in Joe Kessler’s The Gull Yettin, a plot summary that suggests the air of dark myth and enchanted world that the story conjures up, but not the vitality and colour fields of Kessler’s art as he does it. Set seemingly in a present day of trains and football matches and boarding schools, the wordless narrative puts the boy into a set of repeating cycles: traumatic disaster, a dreamy journey to some new location that might not be entirely real, and a period of settled domestic happiness that only lasts until the next trauma arrives.
When his entire family is lost in a house fire, the boy is mysteriously taken from hospital by a bird-like gull creature and travels with it on a long river journey. The gull hands the boy over to a new adoptive mother and then watches from afar simmering with escalating jealousy and anger, although whether directed at the boy or the mother is unclear. Eventually the gull does something terrible, leaving the mother dependent on the boy rather than the other way around. The boy drifts into the company of other boys and then into a new life at a boarding school, where casual bullying and unhappiness accumulate. The gull, still watching, fades away and is absorbed into nature for a while, before reentering the life of both the boy and the woman in another form entirely.
Readers of his Windowpane stories will recognise Kessler’s art toolbox, sharp slabs of otherworldly yellow and green with rough pen lines for the characters added on top, evolving sometimes into aggressive experimentation. When the gull and the boy take their first canoe ride together, Kessler draws the small boat dwarfed by soft painted watercolour washes filling Heaven and Earth, as if the trip was from one mindscape to another. But when the boy’s house burns down and everyone he loves along with it, wild scratches of red and yellow obliterate everything, drastic tangled pen lines of pure childhood terror, with the boy caught in an Edvard Munch Scream.
The miseries heaped on the boy and the adopted mother, and the gull too maybe, would be tough to take in a more realistic or melodramatic style, but Kessler’s cartooning is chasing states of mind rather than concrete events. The art is urgent and soothing at the same time, both cruel and maternal. Characters watch the lives of other characters from a distance through windows, or indeed windowpanes, much like readers seeing events in the panels of a comic – a comparison the art deliberately invites once or twice. In a wordless story the boy can’t express what he actually wants, and even if he could it seems the forces ruling his life from above and beyond are muddled and ambivalent, protective one minute and destructive the next. Kessler, though, doesn’t need words at all to hit the mood he’s aiming it, of fragile happiness and primal sorcery drawn in a wash of living colour.
The post Tripwire Reviews New York Review Of Books’ The Gull Yettin appeared first on TRIPWIRE MAGAZINE.
Speaking Without Words Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes takes a look at Joe Kessler’s The Gull Yettin out now from New York Review Of Books… The Gull Yettin Writer/ artist: Joe Kessler New York Review Of Books A young boy is violently orphaned and thrown out of his familiar life into something stranger and harsher
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