When Anna Haifisch received an email from Vice magazine in 2015 inviting her to do a weekly cartoon strip she said yes right away. Given a blank slate, or perhaps it’s better to say canvas to work from she decided to loosely theme these on the life of a struggling artist – a skeletal, sad, bird- headed, often naked artist. Published by Breakdown Press, The Circle of Life is the second collection of these comics (you can read our review of the first book here).
Although originally released weekly on the Vice website, I recommend reading this book in a single sitting, to feel the balance between Haifisch’s darkness and light as she swings between deeply cynical and sweetly naïve tones throughout. The gut punches are softened by the whimsy, creating an overarching sweet ache for what it means to be creative. By turns familiar and utterly surreal, disaster after disaster befall this avian artiste one after the other.
At times the narrative is almost autobiographical and feels very real – at one point the artist moves back in with his parents and grapples with the comfort and humiliation of living as a “normal person”, concluding “I always thought I was someone special. I realised I am not.” Living as we do in the shadow of the cult of the genius in Western Art, few among those of us that make can claim to have simple feelings on the topic of what counts as worthwhile art; what is worth our time, what is worth money, what is worth living for. This message is especially potent presented in the medium of the comic strip – whose status as an art form in itself sparks endless tedious controversy. Other episodes bare less resemblance to everyday reality and lean to the absurd and metaphorical – art dealers characterised as fox hunters, a utopian art jail where the bars are made of pencils, and various art history vignettes make reference to the canons of both the traditional and cartoons.
The opening page show a tear fall from the artist’s eye as he lies cocooned in bed, hiding from the cruel world. He is coaxed by the caption writer to emerge: “Good news! You’re back with Breakdown Press. How about drawing something nice for your readers?” A 6-panel grid of drawing board sitting later we see that he has drawn a pillow upon which he falls back to sleep. Presumably added for the book this perfectly sets the tone for the tome – a collection that wears its bleak heart on its saccharine sleeve while giving two fingers up to your expectations. Well worth picking up at Breakdown Press’s table at HCZF or on their website here.
Anna Haifisch (W/A) • Breakdown Press, $16.99
Review by Jenny Robins
Breakdown Press will be exhibiting at Hackney Comic + Zine Fair on Sunday September 8th at Table 11.