1.03.2011

Venturing Hypotheses

Hypotheses (Time Enough For Lunch Comics): If you accept the title as definition for the contents, then this is Virginia Heinen undertaking a series of experiments in the world of comics. She fashions herself a scientist, but “managed to infiltrate” the artistic world of self-published autobiographical mini-comics. The experiment yields dramatic results. I review many comics in general, many mini-comics specifically, and one of the most common pitfalls is a lack of polish in terms of creating a commercial looking product. This is the trick; creating something that’s still accessible to an audience, without losing its DIY spirit. Hypotheses has lavish production values, from the lovingly hand-assembled cardstock cover, down to small details in the entertaining table of contents, clear contact information, and a sense of self-effacing humor found in the extra little flourishes throughout. It’s clear that Heinen poured some thought into the project. It makes me smile when I consider that Heinen doesn’t really fancy herself a mini-comics artist, but a scientist first. The conventional wisdom is that life tends to push us toward binary choices, either a scientist or an artist, either a scientist who dabbles in comics or an artist with an interest in science. I tell younger people that there’s room for it all. Why succumb to this false choice? Why not be both?

Artistically, perhaps one of the best compliments I can pay is that the pencils are consistent. In the autiobio shots of herself, it’s evident that change is afoot. The wisps of hair change placement on her head as they naturally would, but despite the subtle shifts, she is still quite recognizable. That is to say, Heinen’s pencils have organic life to them. Moving out, her panels have a great sense of balance, they’re packed with details and a slight manga influence to the facial characteristics. It’s there in the proportion of the eyes, and the wrinkle lines adorning them underneath. Her figure work is soft yet still detailed, usually you see artists adopting a style that captures one or the other. Again, we see Heinen contending with ostensibly exclusive choices. But no, she captures both the soft lines and the hard details. I think it emphasizes that science and art are not necessarily diametrically opposed paradigms; they’re both necessary parts of life. I appreciate how Heinen’s approach to life is full of participation; she’s not content to simply like comics or music, but must make them. Heinen suggests that comics offer her a way of systematically organizing her thoughts in life like no other media can. One great example is the sequence involving the lost tray in the swamp. She and a colleague attempt to recover them through trial and error, and the depicted tries are like scientific experimentation being catalogued. It’s a system, but an entertaining one too. Toward the middle of the book, during the Frog Catcher sequence, the individual pencils look a little more simplified and slightly smaller in scale, almost as if they were being done faster, but still bear nice transitions for storytelling. I found First Date interesting, about the dangers of living in your own head. It reminded me of the character Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter franchise and her ability to see “nargils.” There’s a surprise at the end, an inventive 7 pages of gatefold that drape out across the desk, tracking different threads in a symphony. It’s like the different paths in life than intersect and coalesce, just like the different interests we can all possess that combine to form our identity, like scientist and artist within one being. Grade A.

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