Red Eye, Black Eye
K. Thor Jensen's Red Eye, Black Eye is by turns moving, laugh-out-loud funny, poignant and horrific. What it never fails to be, however, is an utterly captivating story reflecting (unselfconsciously) upon the importance of stories in one's life.
With masterful economy, Jensen establishes the plot in just three pages: What's a poor NY boy to do when, in rapid succession, he loses his job, girlfriend, apartment, grandmother ... and then the events of September 11 occur? Why, purchase a two-month Ameripass from Greyhound and tour the country, largely relying on the kindness of strangers, of course.
While running away from problems in order to find oneself may be a tried and true storyline in prose, Red Eye, Black Eye is an uncommon example of such autobiography being presented as graphic non-fiction. And an outstanding example it is. The brilliant conceit which Jensen adds to his journey (in both the physical and metaphysical senses), however, is to solicit a story from each of his hosts, most of whom he's never before met in person. As Jensen retells these stories as they were told to him, they serve to not only buttress Jensen while on his travels, but to also allow for an immediate connection. As such, these stories serve to provide emotional nourishment and, as they are seamlessly interwoven into the larger narrative of Jensen's own story, they provide the same for the reader.
Jensen's relatively spare artwork, though somewhat cartoonish, is very much grounded in reality. His sense of pacing and his deployment of silent panels is superb. His story packs an emotional wallop, and not through any hackneyed plot devices or overzealous plays on the reader's emotions. Red Eye, Black Eye is simply real stories, as told by real people to one hell of a talented comics auteur whose own story, being large, contains multitudes. Jensen's journey is one that, through his book, allowed me to thrill while sharing in his discoveries ... and it's a journey for which I humbly suggest that all lovers of memoir --or of the art of storytelling for that matter-- should join him.