Compiling all-new material alongside the third and fourth volumes of Joe Kessler’s Windowpane series, this latest incarnation of the artist’s signature title was released at the end of last year to much critical acclaim. It is, of course, a staple publication of indie/alt publisher Breakdown Press whose comics don’t as much push boundaries as burst right through them with a steadfast determination. Kessler is also Breakdown’s Art Director and a previous winner of ELCAF’s Audience Award.
The immediate observation to be made about Windowpane is that its physicality as a tactile object is a vitally important part of its aesthetic. Not simply in the ways that Kessler’s use of colour pops and captivates on the printed page in a manner that digital could never quite replicate but also in those little tactile details – the importance of the page turn or the comic that runs on the reverse side of the cover band. Within, experimentation converges with narrative as Kessler’s distinctive vision asks the reader to interact with the page in ever adapting ways.
One early entry that touches on that school child sense of forbidden exploration and discovery with a fastalistic, even nihilistic twist embodies that changing relationship. Lines between perception and depiction constantly shift, blurring and merging as environment and character shape each other, with motion and pacing largely supplanting exposition and dialogue in the storytelling. In fact in Windowpane even word balloons lose their clarity, sinking and almost disappearing into backgrounds as if even when they’re a necessity they’re still almost an affront to the style of the narrative.
Kessler’s work falls into that category that invites the reader to find their own meaning but it’s also sequential art where the role of observer is stressed over the role of audience member. Here contemporary wizards engage in cyclical conflict, transient relationships pass before our eyes, and characters seek sanctuary in doomed bids for freedom as pursuing forces inevitably catch up with them.
To dissect story points, though, is perhaps to miss the point; the reader can make their own discoveries there. What is far more important to acknowledge and celebrate is what marks Kessler out as such a vibrant and important voice – his mesmerising approach to the page. Those sudden shifts in cartooning style, for example, not just from page to page but sometimes from panel to panel, reminding us of the wide palette of comics expressionism and allowing us to experience the movement of events from different perspectives and interpretive viewpoints. His employment of colour – which in the final story is used to great effect to mirror the changing mood of its three chapters – is sometimes raw, sometimes garish, but always a hypnotic draw.
Windowpane is undoubtedly a tour de force of experimental comics, dazzling bursts of colourful energy can suddenly segue into stripped back functionality, traditional sequential art can be overtaken by the abstract and the symbolic, and the very structure of the page can be subverted and challenged as characters refuse to be bound by its conventions. There’s no compromise, no concession, in these pages and that quiet defiance is in turn Windowpane‘s greatest draw.
Review by Andy Oliver