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?

A Bleeding Cut by Hellen Jo

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.