Alone With The Work: Looking Through Joe Kessler’s ‘Windowpane’
As an artist matures, their work changes. Sometimes that's visible across a wide range of projects; the output, considered as a whole, may show the crafting changes in approach or style. But sometimes you get lucky, and find yourself able to watch this process over the progression of one title.
In those instances, the series becomes more than what it was --- itself squared, dimensions added by the idea that the books grew with the person making them, and that something like a human's gradual expansion was innate to the product as well. That series, as well as being a purposeful expression of sequential movement, becomes imbued with a lively, edifying, abstract meta-narrative. That's Windowpane.
Joe Kessler's Windowpane is an anthology book, until it isn't. Issues #1 and #2 collect several short stories --- I'll call them stories, but many might more accurately be called "diversions" or "sequences" --- whereas the third and upcoming fourth issue are each one single narrative. Issues #1 and #2 both feature a section driven and narrated by the autobiographical writing of Reuben Mwaura that directly continues, one issue to the next.
Kessler's comic thinking knows no limits. Windowpane #1 was opened as a gallery exhibit as well as a single product. Issue #2 uses a pattern of excerpt-repetition from one story to the next that provides a fascinating flow throughout itself, but the progressions between issues, on the whole, are thematic. The colours get stronger, more violent, as the numbers get higher; the attitude of the curator-creator's voice becomes firmer, invites more confidence. The first issue's stories tend to end abruptly and with a certain sense of combative irony, a drop-off that makes one wonder if (doubt that) the teller is in earnest, not facetious. This sense of mistrust fades with every issue, perhaps as the diegesis becomes craftier, more aware of how much one can keep secret whilst revealing, increasingly, the things that one chooses to.
Reuben Mwaura, Kessler's collaborator on the first two issues, is a youth worker in Nairobi whose writing was passed to Joe via a family link-up, and if nothing about the artistry of Kessler's work appeals to you, then Mwaura's ebullient, tender narration should make it worth a look anyway. His accounts of his childhood, his mother, his life, are written with such love, kindness and verve.
Kessler himself is a frustrating creator, one who seems to have so much talent that he doesn't bother with craft. This is an illusion, the result of different craft and artistic thinking, but either way a reader processes it, it's challenging, and invites response. His application of color and non-application of mimetic anatomy and perspective seem to say, "This is so easy, I'll just fling it all down, print it, and leave." The reader is left alone, really alone, with the work.
Combined with the emotional existentialism and confessional stylings of many stories, and Mwaura's tremendous kindness and poetry, the books seem like a grunt, or like sweat --- the earthy, secondary output of internal heavy lifting. Creating such a thing by design and long-term action, publishing it as a luxury product, is almost obnoxious, if obnoxiousness can be fully positive and interesting.
Issue #4 will debut at Breakdown Press' Safari festival in August. Issue #1 is currently available on Breakdown's online store, and issues #2-3 may be searched out here and there. No luck? Request a second printing from Breakdown.
If you ever feel cramped with comics, and unsure whether there's something missing from your pull list? Try a little exercise and track down Windowpane.