Frontier #20 by Anatola Howard

In The Name of Love
Anatola Howard
Published by Youth In Decline

A collection of vignettes showcasing love in various guises: otherness, crushes, music, bodily image, artist-fan relationships. The situations range from straight-up outlandish to perhaps coldly familiar, but what each more or less share in common is a variegated understanding of love as an elevated experience of action, an operation, something that does something to something else. Whether it’s a dude getting in a one-night-stand with a literal alien or a teenage lesbian going through a rollercoaster of emotion, love becomes affective passion, an occurrence or positing verbed upon the transference of energy; being in love generates, it electrifies, imbues a bodily vigor—with cartooning becoming a kind of aperture to witnessing this dynamo at work.

There’s a story in here called ‘Stop! In The Name of Love” concerning a reticent guy who, drinking out on the town with his male coworkers (including his self-assured crush), eventually ends up pressured into performing drunken karaoke. (Guess what song he picks!) And… it’s sort of amazing, it’s literally just a salaryman throwing off the chains of self-restraint to fucking dance and sing in a visual tangle of microphone cords and belted-out lyrics swirling across the page.

Likewise in my favorite story among the bunch, “A 4D Romance,” which crafts a similar affect but inverted, building bottom-up from emotion into a blush by utilizing a few whispered word bubbles and keen color choice.

 Annnnnnnnnd so on and so forth.

Like many past artists in Frontier, I didn’t know Anatola Howard or her work before this collection—pretty stellar! Especially considering the tightknit theme: to focus on collating representations of the myriad contexts in which a feeling of love can emerge or sustain itself is a daunting task for an artist, because truth be told, it’s a daunting subject. Love has a primality to it but there’s also a fuzziness, too, a state of mind occupied by boundless energy continually threatening to dissipate at any time for whatever reason, yet merrily carrying on within an inner space oscillating between a process and being – it’d be so easy to halfass and not do it proper justice (just ask your ex!)! It’s a type of feeling totally universal to human experience, yet somehow always specific in its envelopment. Details and factors change, but the fall into love always starts out with a series of gestures or acts unfolding coextensively across complex thresholds of accumulation and incubation, escalation and descent, duration and suspension, highs and lows: if the speeds matchup, if they all ultimately culminate together, it’ll resonate into a perception. How such generic uniqueness gets instantiated within any particular relation of love is always an expression of this complex act, a singularity of bonds whose only commonality among separate cases is bestowment of a new sensibility: palpable intensity, blissful celerity. You can always tell when somebody loves something because their body tattles, their behavior becomes stimulus-dependent and internally motivated by its very presence! They quite simply do something about it, even if it’s the wrong thing entirely.

And that’s love, in its overwhelming simplicity: praxis, positivity, a mode of expansive performativity seeking out joy, earnestness, openness. Anything else isn’t necessarily bullshit, just far less potent.


If it seems like I’ve lost the plot taking a pretentious detour, pontificating upon a subject so often degraded by meddling designations or gatekeeping claimants, well, it’s only because… I mean, shit, how do you draw that? To not so much evoke love towards a situation or character on the part of the audience in reading a work, but rather successfully capture at a glance in a drawing how being in love feels: I’m interested in that, it’s not easy to pull-off. We’re talking about a complicated notion with an energy entirely its own, recognizably distinct from easily identifiable feelings like sadness or happiness or anger.  I suppose comics storytelling perhaps has the leg up over traditional visually ‘inert’ pictorial spaces such as painting or strict illustration in this regard—love is a complicated series of gestures; every series always has a component of time, which requires a sequencing of events; paneling is nothing but drawing sequential slivers of space to create time (I don’t know if I even fully believe this imaginary argument I’m constructing on the spot here about fine art versus lowly comics, but hey, I DO know Alex Ross has never painted a single comicbook whose photorealism took time to make me feel anything!)—yet, given the short breadth of pages here, you’d be hard-pressed into believing Howard somehow relies on narrative ploys or clever pacing as some ‘cheap’ shortcut towards simulating such visceral affects. No, if I’m overly impressed with Fronter #20, it’s in the fact Anatola Howard really seems to comprehend the full diversity of matters properly pertaining to such dynamicism without gimmickry, the multifaceted yet singular essence of an earthy concept becoming the idea her drawings seemingly stride towards in technical form.

This is pure cartooning, in other words. Howard’s expressive figures, line weight and careful coloring transform drumming, or listening to poetry, or even a kind word spoken aloud into a direct current crystalizing passion(s), style fluid as the subject matter, compositions emitting the emotion animating embodied motion – look, I’m probably talking in circles at this point, do you understand what I’m saying? What I mean is you can actually see the love emerge right there on the page, that is, Anatola Howard is somehow able to capture in some way that incandescent dynamism which underlies our most intricate human feelings and… distill it into a drawing. She makes complex acts of emotion manifest byway of a dozen showcases, sometimes in the span of a single image, without suffering any loss to the original sensations, which… to me, that’s like making a smell visible through a painting? Perception of the imperceptible, baby. Very keen!

You might claim I’m exaggerating or engaged with giddy hyperbole. If not merely overthinking. Because this is just what Art in general and comics in particular are supposed do, right? Eliciting sensations, producing connections, conjuring percepts… or whatever else abstract platitudes can be made. This isn’t anything unique, quite possibly this work isn’t even the best exemplification of what’s being talked about.  And yeah, sure! Totally. Maybe.

But it still doesn’t answer the question: how the heck does Anatola Howard make love look so easy?