While Dustin Harbin's nakedly emotional memoir More Economies Of Scale allows for a whole raft of personal assumptions made about and at him, the first reaction any relatively long time reader will have is less personal: he's going big again! After what at times seemed like a vaguely fussy pursuit of ever smaller mini-comics, Harbin's recent publication reverses the atomization trend. It's an intricately drawn love letter to a girlfriend, with loose-eyed tangents inspired in part by the work of John McPhee, whose work on geology has also been a rather large influence as of late on another cartoonist who loves four panel pages and extremely detailed fine line hand lettering, Kevin Huizenga. Who is the fussy one now?!
Going big has its benefits, and while Economies still got lost in my stack of Batman: Reptilian issues, Harbin makes the most of the space now available. Losing none of the intricate density that those micro pages taught readers to expect, these pages--depicting a trip to Joshua Tree early in the couple's relationship, narrated after it took place--are overflowing with line and detail, showing an eye for background that feels as much like a fastidious sketch journal of the natural world as it does a brief snapshot of a pretty good date. It's a heavier line, denser, as fuzzy with pinestraw as everything Harbin draws is, but it's that same kind of just-for-me bravura that you find when an illustrator is unwilling to leave a panel alone until each and every piece of rock has been ladled with attention, until all of its fractional extras have had their pieces of business thoroughly considered.
That same density is what works for the story's emotional beats. While most of Economies' rhyme and kindness is found in Harbin's narration, describing his feelings towards his partner (both those feelings as they are during the events depicted in the comic, and those feelings as they stand during the time of illustration with him looking back), it's in the choice to abandon detail in his rendering of himself that gives the comic an immersive quality, the same quality that is so often the aim of what we're now calling "graphic memoir", so as not to mix it up with "autobio", or whatever derogatory term you choose to use when you need to position yourself as morally superior by putting an entire mode of expression on blast for a list of crimes only a couple of its practitioners are actually guilty of.
Here, Dustin's depiction of himself only stays within the realm of the "realistic" in its opening and closing pages, barring one panel in the middle of the comic. The rest of the time, he's a hundred foot tall giant, legs as long as a skyscraper with a face lacking in defining traits, or he's a six inch tall elf, trying to wrap his tiny mouth around a cookie that's 3 times his size. He plays with language here in a way that is almost too honest, too corny, but within the context of what the comic is--a love song, a romantic poem, an extended note for another, composed in the medium the composer is most comfortable with--it works, landing on the safe side, the sweet side.
Comics like this are too light to feel like major work, but if the past few years have proved anything, it's that going heavy is no guarantee of anything that important either. Something like this--something kind, endlessly nerdy, resolutely and delicately cute--is a welcome reminder that certain sentimental chords, played quickly, are always welcome.