THOUGHT BUBBLE FORTNIGHT! Events like Thought Bubble offer us an opportunity not just to celebrate the things we love about comics but also to make other discoveries, to open ourselves up to uses of the form we may not have encountered before, and to add the names of creators who are new to us to our ever growing lists of favourites. For some years now at Broken Frontier I have been actively pushing the work of Peony Gent, one of our ever growing group of BF ‘Six to Watch’ creators and a recent artist-in-residence at House of Illustration, for practice that has genuinely been taking comics into untrodden narrative territory. Gent has a number of new comics out for TB this year and if you’re making the trip to Harrogate in the hope of finding boundary-pushing and experimental work then Three Comics is an excellent starting point for appreciating her deeply affecting line in graphic poetry.
Originally published as a trio of comics on Instagram, Three Comics deals with themes of connection, death, and (almost inevitably at the moment) responses to the way our lives have changed in these pandemic times. The first offering ‘silence’ (below) recalls a holiday in Margate and a former relationship. The reality of the latter elegantly summed up with a weary but piercing fatalism in a perceptive commentary on one awkward conversational exchange. Here the near abstract imagery – all scattered scenes and brief flashes of actuality – creates a sense of hazy recollection in terms of physical surroundings, reminding us that the clarity of the moment here is in the lingering immediacy of the feelings it evoked and which stayed on with her.
Following this up is ‘two mice’ which Gent describes as “musings on death & decay” (below). This is representative of a strand of Gent’s work that is more philosophical in delivery; less concerned about the specifics of events and more keyed through its meditative explorations to engendering reactions from the readers, or inviting them to find their own parallel truths; here in its study of the transient and ephemeral nature of reality.
The final comic ‘day xx’ (“the inevitable pandemic comic”, below) is the one that will doubtless resonate the most strongly right now given what we have all been living through since March 2020. It’s all so horribly familiar – the way through lockdown that our perceptions of time became so skewed and indefinable, how suddenly we had to adjust to boundaries that were not simply physical but mental as well, and how we found ourselves re-evaluating and reflecting upon the past and the people and places that we met and travelled through on our personal journeys.
Once again the profound power of Gent’s work is that the visual element is not simply illustrating her words. Instead it serves to complement them, to add extra layers to them rather than define them graphically, to expand upon them and touch the reader on other sensory levels that seek to add thematic levels through their symbolism. They are then an integral part of the poetry, an essential component of the overall experience. You can find Peony Gent at Table 41 in the ComiXology Originals Hall at Thought Bubble, and if you really want to appreciate just how much we are only scratching the surface of the potential inherent in graphic narrative I suggest picking up as many of her comics and zines as you are able to.
Peony Gent (W/A) • Self-published, £5.00
Visit Peony Gent’s online store here
Review by Andy Oliver