Quiet Thoughts is a collection of Karen Shangguan’s gentle and poetic comic narratives, published by Avery Hill Publishing. Varying in levels of abstractness, but consistently beautiful, Shangguan’s art allows us glimpses into the universe of various beings, such as a goldfish, a star, and the wind.
The medium changes between entries, sometimes appearing more traditional, with the soft touches of pencil, and at other times with a crisper, digital finish – and some have a mix of both. These soft touches are emphasized by the muted colour palette: slight sepia tones, warm pinks and oranges, pale yellow patches of sunlight. The fleshy palette hints at a certain intimacy, a closeness wherein we are allowed to receive these quiet thoughts.
We scurry through each individual comic in a way that seems intentional itself, as though, collected, the individual comics become something even greater than the sum of their parts. With few title pages, the comics merge into each other and appear to be the musings of some omniscient, shapeshifting being. The glimpses Shangguan affords to us leave a lot unspoken, with the visuals leaping about and whispering of hidden narratives; yet we are left to determine their meaning ourselves.
Shangguan’s collection provides a playful engagement with the comic medium, testing and teasing the boundaries to see what meaning remains. Throughout the collection, it seems as though Shangguan is questioning the best way to portray the rather abstract poetic inspirations behind each work, and the varied executions of this throughout reveal the malleable nature of graphic narratives. This is in virtue of their twofold enterprise: the written word and the form.
Indeed, very much like poetry, where the visual form of the poem can change the reading of it, the layout and composition of comics on the page can drastically alter our reading of it. Shangguan plays with this throughout Quiet Thoughts, in a way that shows the plasticity of comics and the myriad of tones, feelings, and stories, they can provoke.
Karen Shangguan (W/A) • Avery Hill Publishing, £12.99
Review by Rebecca Burke