Autumn In New York

Dark Tomato #1 (Domino Books): Sakura Maku’s conflicted love letter to New York City was the initial publishing offering from Domino Books, and it was a smart choice to establish the credibility and aesthetic of the line. I’ve always felt that the term “art comix” was a bit of a pretentious effort to bridge the hi-brow and lo-brow gap, but when you see something this great it makes you want to use a term like that to create synthesis between the elusive realm of Fine Art and the beloved craft of “comics-making.” The story centers on NYC MTA driver Prince Tamlin Tomato, a woman who runs the route from “Jamaica Queens to LES to Coney Island.” Maku has a playful way with her wordplay, from things like “Red-Robstering,” assumably capitalizing on any number of Asian accents (or just avoiding copyright entanglements), to peel and eat shrimp (so common on the East Coast, yet nearly unheard of as menu items on the West Coast) becoming “peel and heal your soul.” Artistically, Maku shows off a range of clip art collage, to the lost art of decoupage, and then dull ink washes, in a luminous effort to show the strengths of mixed media composition. It’s as if you rummaged through the halls of any university art program to see a cross-section of the finest work, with words and art blending together in a very analog street art style. Despite the wondrous craft on display, I probably enjoyed Tamlin Tomato’s dreamlike discovery of the city and her place in it the most. She finds it to be a living breathing entity, full of circle motifs (sun, moon, street lamps, etc.), itself an artistic melting pot and simply The Greatest City On Earth, The Capital Of The Word, warts and all. While there’s confidence in this effort, there’s also the uncertainty associated with experimentation. Maku plays with secondary meaning being laced into some of the text. For example, the line “THEY’RE MAKING ME FEEL…” has individual letters differentiated in such a way that the message “HEY KING ME” pops out, urging you to go back and look for more secret messages which may never be realized. With touches like that, and the way that Maku is not afraid of ink, showing off her willingness to get in and just muck up the page, it creates a real sense of joyful bravado. These pages are just pulsating with rhythm, “tunnels tunnels underground so they can make it safe and sound.” The shots of the city are simply inspiring, often times feeling like the sensation one would get walking the streets of NYC on an autumn night. This is an uncommon effort, the only thing I can think of that even comes close is some of the work I’ve seen from Olga Volozova at Sparkplug Comic Books, but even that isn’t a fair comparison to either artist. The “shabby chic” of Dark Tomato is as much a statement about urban understanding as it is a personal quest for meaning. Grade A.


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