If Lala Albert’s previous book, Janus, was about drawing people and interiors of the real world, and the “interiors of the self,” then this book is about not drawing people or interiors. It is not about artificial interiors or artificial people. It is a book of exteriors, of the natural world of trees, and birds, and life free of artifice. It is a book of “nature” drawings and one which uses an avatar of a tiny elf-like humanoid to guide the reader through this wordless graphic novel.
I must admit, I am not usually a fan of stories or comic books which feature supernatural elves or faeries. While Wet Earth is more like a television nature show which just happens to have elves in it, I had to suspend my disbelief by imagining that this was the next chapter of Janus. At the end of Janus, the protagonist looks at a seashell and speaks to it. I imagined the protagonist fell asleep and dreamed Wet Earth, and by doing that I could get over the elves frolicking around with the animals and birds and insects in the beautifully rendered Wet Earth.
There is no title on the front of this edition published by Sonatina. No name either. Simply a black and white rendering of a plant. The whole of the book is black ink on white paper. It begins with what appears to be wild, tall grass in close up. The field is still in one panel and then with the wind blowing through it in the next. Elegant and simple. It is an apt set up for what is to come, as the “camera” zooms in and we see the tiny elf-like humanoid holding on to one of the shafts of flowering tall grass, which then gives the reader a sense of scale. So we are thrust into a microcosm of a world and begin to “silently” follow the protagonist through their adventures in this seemingly normal Earth world of Earth birds and raccoons and bugs. Less science fiction and more “fantasy” feeling, it still feels like a documentary approach which provides the author with ample opportunity to showcase her formidable drawing chops.
I could describe the adventures the protagonist has within the little big world, however it feels unimportant to “getting” or liking the book. I just like it for the art, really. It reads like a nature show where you sort of follow the narrative of hunting and gathering and fighting and nesting in order to survive. This book is simply a pleasure to look at, and slowly read by piecing together the sequences. It struck me that, after tackling the “big questions” of identity and interpersonal politics in her previous book, Janus, the author is here choosing to draw places and sequences which give joy and peace. The anxieties of “who one is,” and how one navigates human social life, which were prominent in Janus, have been replaced by a lucid unfurling of events which give the reader a sense of calm. Flipping through the sequences, I recall my own nature walks and interactions with “life” free from the anxiety and the artificiality of, say, the shopping center parking lot.
The author seems to wish to project a shrunk down humanoid figure in order to let herself into the scene without disturbing it all the way we humans do. Albert doesn’t construct a world for her avatars, meaning there are no Smurf villages hidden in the woods where the two elves live. They are nomadic, and while their actions do propel the movement of the sequences (there is no plot to speak of), I found myself wanting more. The book manages to avoid simply being a “nature show” because it isn’t just images of birds flitting around or raccoons climbing trees. Things do happen and the elf humanoid finds companionship in the end, however, it feels as though the author was more interested in keeping a light emotional touch. The joy which the protagonist feels at finding companionship and to be alive in this little tale is transmitted exceptionally well. I think it is better to have the humanoid avatars than giving these duties of transmission to a bird or a raccoon.
I can’t hide my disappointment that I wanted Janus 2 but I think the author delivered something better than a simple rehashing of previous ground covered. The drawing is far more accomplished than anything I’ve ever seen by Albert, including Janus and numerous zines and illustrations over the years. I could make an argument that Lala Albert is one of the best “drawers” working in contemporary comics. The ability to convey a lively natural world is very difficult and Albert does it with a masterful touch. I highly recommend anyone interested in drawing to check out this book. I’m very taken with the drawing and the simple design and execution of each sequence and spread. Wet Earth is great comics-making. Despite my reservations with the “characters” in this book, that is just my taste. The drawing and the sequencing in Wet Earth are marvelous and there is a real joy of being alive transmitted here, which I find very touching.