The stated aim of Wu Wei is to provide “an anthology that gives writers and artists a space to creatively explore spirituality through the medium of comics.” If you’re wondering what the title itself means then the book’s website defines it as “a Taoist term meaning non-action. To practise Wu Wei is to act in a natural way and reveal one’s own nature.” You can check out the promotional video below to get some firsthand accounts of how the participants in this latest U.K. small press team effort have interpreted that concept.
A couple of months back here at Broken Frontier I interviewed Wu Wei’s guiding light Mike Medaglia on the philosophy behind the comic and the approaches to the material taken by its near thirty creative voices. Given the names involved it’s a project I have been rather eagerly anticipating for some time. It has a distinct and well-defined reason to be and examines subject matter that is, comparatively, rarely dealt with on the comics page.
The first thing one notices about Wu Wei is that while it may have a prescribed area of coverage the approaches taken to it are excitingly diverse in terms of both story content and narrative structure. I’ve been covering small press books here at Broken Frontier for nearly two years now, so I am very familiar with most of the talents on show here. What delighted me about many of their Wu Wei contributions though is how, on the one hand, they proved to be so very different from their usual oeuvre and yet simultaneously remained such solid reflections of their respective creative personae. All involved have taken that initial premise of examining spirituality through sequential art and then filtered it through their own unique vision.
The disparate storytelling styles here range from comics that proffer deep and contemplative deliberations to those that are full-on running gag strips. Some adapt Eastern philosophy and its historical advocates onto the comics page while others take a far more personal view, giving us slice-of-life style tales from their creators’ own individual experience. Of particular note are the artists making full use of the peculiarities of the comic strip form to tell stories and communicate ideas in ways that simply could not be done in another medium. That’s always something to relish and is very evident, for example, in Tim Hassan’s use of the page in his collaboration with Mike Medaglia, Howard Hardiman’s thought-provoking abstract entry, and Medaglia’s subtle manipulation of the form in his ‘When I Woke Up this Morning’.
Work from Howard Hardiman, Tim Hassan and Mike Medaglia
Possibly my favourite piece in the entire book sees writer Steven Walsh playing to artist Owen D. Pomery’s strengths (see our review of Pomery’s Between the Billboards here at Broken Frontier) in an allegorical rumination on the impermanence of architecture. As a counterpoint to this Walsh (with witty visuals from Francesca Dare) also provides a number of ‘It’s Nasrudin’ humour strips – featuring the 13th century everyman philosopher – that punctuate the book. Similarly, Lizz Lunney brings her own welcome absurdist humour to Wu Wei in short bursts throughout.
While I can’t cover each and every person involved in Wu Wei in even an extended review I hope I’m at least touching on the multiplicity of storytelling techniques between its covers. You can be reading Elena Jessup and Emmeline Pui Ling Dobson’s beautifully illustrated meditative 4-pager one moment only to find yourself engrossed in the wonderfully self-indulgent ludicrousness of John Riordan’s potato-themed recasting of Buddha in ‘Meditato’s Guide to Spuddhism’ just a few pages later. Or enjoying Adam Murphy’s myth-based object lessons before the complete contrast of the ever brilliant David ‘Ziggy’ Greene’s violently slapstick antics hooks you. And let’s not forget the tactile element of the anthology: Wu Wei includes a gorgeous detachable AJ Poyiadgi origami comic for the readers to assemble themselves and Richy K. Chandler’s haunting story ‘Mizuko Jizo’ concludes with a fold-out concertina panel. Inventive and clever uses of the medium, both of which can be seen in the video above.
Steven Walsh’s collaborations with Francesca Dare and Owen D. Pomery, and John Riordan’s ‘Meditato’
To a degree I almost feel I’m doing Wu Wei a disservice in even attempting to review it. Simply put, this is a comic that transcends discussion; one that exists to be directly experienced and individually engaged with rather than deconstructed and meticulously assessed. To dissect this very special book is an exercise in redundancy that at best misses the point, and at worst seems like an act of unrepentant critical vandalism. That’s because Wu Wei is a comic that fosters a most intimate relationship between creator and audience, and that interaction will elicit different reactions and evoke varied emotions from each reader to peruse its pages.
When, at the end of this year, I come to writing my ‘10 UK Small Press Comics You Need to Own’ round-up I think we can be fairly sure that Wu Wei will be a shoo-in for inclusion therein. In a peculiar way, though, I almost hope it isn’t, because if it is absent it will mean I will have reviewed ten better books for ‘Small Pressganged’ before we reach 2014. And if that proves to be the case then the tail-end of 2013 is, indeed, going to be a quite remarkable few months for the British small press scene…
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