Travel Diary. Scott Finch. Domino Books. 40 pp. $25.
I reviewed Scott Finch‘s amazing graphic novel, The Domesticated Afterlife, (here and here) last year and it’s time to update you with my take on his latest book, Travel Diary.
Travel Diary runs weekly at the Solrad comics criticism site similar to the installments it did of The Domesticated Afterlife. These books are available at Domino Books. In fact, Finch’s Travel Diary, The Domesticated Afterlife, A Little World Made Cunningly, and Form and Deed can all be found at Domino Books. And you can purchase archival prints of artwork from Travel Diary over here. @scott_finch_art on Instagram.
Travel Diary is a very different format from The Domesticated Afterlife and yet they both share common ground, a similar vibe. As Finch related to me: “Beyond the punch of color, there’s a layering, complexity, and narrative abstraction that this project has in common with all my stuff. I think you could also relate this to how Form and Deed followed A Little World Made Cunningly: a slim abstract volume leaning from comics into ‘fine art’ that follows a lengthy dense graphic novel.”
I totally agree that, once familiar with the work of Scott Finch, a reader is going to pick up on recurring patterns and motifs. In other words, if you dig Finch’s art, you know it when you see it! Yeah, baby! Let’s never get too precious about comics, art, or, brace yourself, art-comics! Seriously, I totally respect the comics medium, as you already know. What I try to do here is find the right mix of respect and irreverence in order to keep things interesting. For those still new to art, I just ask that you make a leap of faith and know that art is many things: enlightening, entertaining, redeeming.
So, what is going on within the Scott Finch universe, pray tell? It has to do with the perpetual need for all of us to appease our own existential struggles. It has to do with the search for the uncanny because we know this world is not exactly all there is. And that, dear friend, means being ever open to the magical, the transcendent, the stuff that dreams are made up, the stuff that you may find just around the corner from one world into the next. The stuff of art! Finch does this with a real bravura vision that often involves stacking of various elements. Notice all the stacking going on in the above example: all those vehicles piled up. It makes you wonder if it’s ever really going to be any kind of vehicle, self-driving or not, that is finally going to make you feel that you’ve arrived.
When in doubt, refer back to the title. Travel Diary. Any clue there? Anything to hang your hat on? I go through each piece, page by page, and it all looks like contemporary hieroglyphics, a secret language that you don’t need to ever literally understand. I get a sense of a struggle dealing with the rules, the limitations, all the way down to our persistent mortal coil. If only we had wings! If only we let go and blended with our environment. We keep running towards something, if only our legs won’t give out! Finch packs a punch with each drawing; sort of letting you know we’re all in this together. There’s a heady mix of spirituality and playful experimentation on every page.
And speaking of running, and legs running, here’s the kicker: the whole thing is a bit of joke on us. Well, in an artful way, since you were never meant to take anything literally, or too seriously. At the end of the book, Finch reveals that this is a series of exercises made up of recontextualizing various bits of flotsam and jetsam from old sketchbooks! To add to the complexity, this is also the result of a mail art correspondence with fellow artist D.W., @kidclampdown. Finally, for the amazing color work, Finch collaborated with fellow artist Fazila Nasoordeen of Bahrain, @Z_neow. And, despite these nicely played artistic hat tricks, something of an exquisite corpse and then some, a narrative manages to push its way into existence. Ah, the power of story and persistent sense-making. I read a story of struggle to seek something better in life. Your mileage may vary or perhaps we can all embrace a certain level of common ground. Whatever the case, let your feet touch the ground.