You know, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a diary comic that more accurately reflected the experience of living life than this one. That’s both a pro and a con. Some of the strips, like some days in your life, are just kind of dull, e.g. the opening suite of strips about the mystique of Kerouac and maybe-I-should-get-a-real-job and other angsty artist stuff. Some of the strips work too hard, as people often do when reflecting on their days, to wrench transcendence or importance from the quotidian,
the six-panel format
to break up visual and verbal observations
that make them feel more profound
than they really are.
These are both common diary-comic pitfalls, and Yanow falls into the latter in particular with some regularity.
But she’s not trapped in either, and that’s the exciting thing about In Situ. It starts with her line, which is sloppy in the best way, able to shift between Porcellino minimalism, frantic impassioned mark-making, sketchbook casualness, and (yes) sometimes just plain looking sloppy with startling ease. This enables her to bounce immediately from the slow slice-of-life stuff mentioned above to, well, pretty much anything else—abstraction, life studies, figures conveyed through the pure interaction of shapes Andy Burkholder-style, even strips that have no visual element at all besides hand-drawn panel borders and dialogue dotted with Anders Nilsen-y crossouts and redactions.
It makes every page turn an adventure. There’s a strip right at the beginning that sketches out an afternoon with an interesting “she” in three snapshot panels, with no context of who “she” is relative to Yanow herself. There are strips about the Occupy movement that echo its Oakland manifestation’s emphasis on reclaiming abandoned spaces by leaving their panels mostly empty. There’s a screentone-heavy trip to a “The Queer Bar,” drawn in a tighter, more confident line, popping the whole night out against the background of the rest of the strips. There’s an adaptation of another writer’s work boiled down to how spotted blacks can convey an ocean at night and the black jacket of someone standing on the beach. There are a pair of strips drawn in a slightly more naturalistic style that simply involve Yanow walking off the street and into a building.
So that’s why I say this diary comic is more like life, more lifelike, than most. There’s some tedium, and there’s some overwrought relationshippy/arty drama, but life is a restless thing, prone to coughing up wow and what-the-fuck moments amid the dull grey hum, and Yanow is clearly a restless and game enough artist to take a crack at capturing them, changing her art in whatever way it takes to do it on a case by case basis. You have to figure that the more she tries, the more she’ll succeed.