SLCZF WEEK! Peony Gent’s Eke It Out Then Swallow It Whole exemplifies for me a vital quality of her work; an ability to so intimately connect with the reader and evoke emotional reactions that possess an almost overwhelming familiarity, but without necessarily needing to clarify the specifics of the experiences she is depicting on the page. It’s a remarkable gift to be able to communicate with an audience on such an instinctive and immediate level. Gent’s particular form of graphic poetry has always had that capacity, underlining her genuinely unique approach to the medium that we have been celebrating here at Broken Frontier for a number of years.
Eke It Out Then Swallow It Whole was created in 2021 as an exercise in breaking free of a creative block, and completed in just three days. On her website Gent say of the project “I make comics to process and pin moments in my life, and to mull over thoughts that won’t stop lingering. However I hope it also feels somewhat cathartic for anyone else going through similar thought processes, or anyone else stuck in a similar rut.” This is far more than a cyclically metatextual monologue on the creative process though. There are fragments of thought and experience that all readers will be able to relate to, particularly given that the shadow of the pandemic is an ever present one within its pages.
If you’re yet to discover Gent’s comics she blends abstract illustration with hauntingly delicate poetry to create narratives that feel both fragile and ethereal, and yet grounded and universal. One of the distinct qualities of her work is that because of that empathetic relationship she forms between page and reader what each person takes away from her comics may be entirely different, given how it links to their own emotional experience and history.
Here she touches on themes of adapting to life in the pandemic, the kindness of strangers, of irrational feelings of underachievement and burn-out, self-examination and purpose, stagnation and growth, and the little, supposedly trivial moments in life that are just as integral as the bigger picture. It’s all so resonant for the economy of imagery, the focus on the visually abstract over the literal, and the unlikely page and panel structures that give her beautifully crafted narration its power. I suspect I am largely preaching to the choir now given how many years I have been making similar observations about Peony Gent’s practice but if you’re attending the South London Comic & Zine Fair this weekend and haven’t invested some time in her work then Eke It Out Then Swallow It Whole is an excellent entry point.
Peony Gent • Self-published, £8.00
Review by Andy Oliver
Peony Gent is at Table 35 at the South London Comic and Zine Fair this Sunday July 10th.