A Bleeding Cut by Hellen Jo

A BLEEDING CUT
Hellen Jo
Self Published

A short poetry comic on tiny 4”x5.5” riso pages in an 8-fold pattern layout. Hellen Jo remains one of my favorite illustrators working today, her prints and portraits featuring young women—sometimes solitary, other times in groups, occasionally nude, always of salamandrine gumption— carrying an air of cool detachment which nonetheless exudes a magmatic warmth like few I’ve seen: cigarettes, blood, tears, skateboards and iced drinks distributed among girls posed in gang huddles, whispered gossip, selfie squats, knees in faux-prayer. To see her figures is to experience a queer tension like loitering around loose lava (softly exposed, vulnerable to the surrounding air but don’t stare too long: unless you can flow with them or their own, if you fuck around and aren’t naturally made of the same stuff, they’ll kill ya).  I missed Frontier #2 when it initially came out, so the notion of digging into a proper comic from Jo, however short, was exciting to say the least.

A Bleeding Cut is so simple it’d be easy to feign it as decorative. At six pages it opens and reads quickly, not so much a story or even a tale but operating more like some in media res poesis about a vague state of affairs. We have our nameless quintessential Jo lady contemplating a wound: a deep gash across her palm (was it caused by her own hand or no?). The bleeding doesn’t heal naturally nor crust over; she tries nursing herself back to health by licking it as needed, although dwelling upon it in rather somber and half-heartedly terms: ‘but I live inside it.’ There feels like an unspoken implication this whole thing has gone on for some time, frustrated resignation, a vicious cycle.  I doubt there’s any sleep until she’s exhausted herself stanching the blood at night – then the next day it’ll reopen and start all over again. The blood droplets fall like slow tears. Jo’s imagery is concrete, juxtaposed with narration abstract enough you can reread and read into it as much as you want.

What’s notable is the strange choice of kirigami format. It loans the act of reading this a fitting quality of peculiar materiality: there’s no manner of stapling, only a single piece of paper with everything printed on one side – it can be unfurled, depending on how or where it’s held and pulled open, even unfolded outright entirely. Like this:

Each number is a page (functioning as a panel) meticulously creased then folded into (sequential) existence: exterior pairs 1-2 and 6-5 remain connected by a paper hinge, while the inner pairs 8-3 and 7-4 have been cleaved into flimsy separation by a horizontal incision down the middle of the page. The physical result is something tactile, which shifts and opens upon wounded contortions, narrative structure pivoting around a gaping shape at the heart of everything: “it tastes bitter / emits gas / the foundation is cracked / & the resale value is worthless.” 

I can’t speak to intentions (maybe this choice of format is just cheaper than buying staplers, natch?). But it feels impossible to touch, see, grasp this real gap in physicality without drawing parallels to the titular cut mentioned within… and that really gave me a jolt. I found myself complicit with A Bleeding Cut by design. At its most basic this is simply a mourning comic about living inside the worry of your wounds, a feeling I’d pick at constantly throughout the year it came out; eventually it’d lodge itself in the storage compartment of my car’s armrest, something to be glanced at or paused over nonchalantly in long-drawn traffic jams or parking lots. What I needed specifically was how it delivered it: the terseness of it, the strange nature of its folding (the frustration of being unable to put it back together properly, too, sometimes), the poking around inside whatever it was gesturing towards. A little backpocket lodestone to sorta nudge around and play with during your most empty thoughts, until it instigates something else.

There’s a certain grace to having an object like that in your life. A poem can often function like a kōan or a prayer—if not a scab. And sometimes the best zines are no different, which is exactly the quality I like best in them. I had a head like a hole for most of 2019, large swaths of time spent agonizing over a single mistake I’d made and wishing I was someone better. A Bleeding Cut didn’t fill it, but Hellen Jo at least helped me to visualize the echo.  That’s nothing to scoff at.

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