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.

Telling the truth can be dangerous business…

Howdy, y’all. I’m Trent. This is my blog: a cartography of talking about shit I really really like (or don’t and why).

I’m not sure how you’ve arrived here exactly. Or at what point in time you’re reading this, since the initial posting. Or even what or how much of the site you’ve read before discovering it.

I suppose it doesn’t matter. I suppose that’s half the fun of an archive (how it folds or unfolds a history of things, depending on how you approach it)

Why make a blog? Now there’s a question. “Oh geez a blog… why the dumb hassle?” What’s the point anymore in this day and age, when everything needing to be said can be seemingly sequestered onto user platforms: a neatly packaged Letterbox, a Medium-sized newsletter, a pithy tweet? Why not monetize your hobby properly? Why make a land claim in the island chain of the Internet, if the attention span and dopamine receptors aren’t there long enough among the population to spot or stick with it? If it’ll all just inevitably filter and fall under the heavenly mandate of Meta anyways… why do any of this? Why bother at all, really?

I dunno! I guess the simple fact of the matter is the idea of this has been in the back of my head so long, I can’t imagine not doing it—it seemed like a foregone conclusion as soon as I discovered what a blog was or how it could instantiate a real way to do… something.  I can only speak from experience. I grew up exploring and learning how to use the internet in that brief yet special 2000s/early 2010s era of being online, a window of time I’ll try avoiding actively romanticizing but which nonetheless will be emphasized here as an odd period with its own particular sensation or logic of onlineness (a uniqueness worth mentioning, if only by dint of the fact there’s probably an entire generation born after mine nowadays who might read that and recognize nothing of the sensation or even what the fuck I’m going on about).  Social media was gaining ascendence, yet still hadn’t been fully embedded into society and thus remained curiously distinct from the everyday: corporatization hadn’t smoothed everything out into a homogenized network of lock-in nodes and platform capitalism, so the Net still resembled a place where chancy discoveries or community connections formed a bit less algorithmic, more open-endedly. Forums still had advocates, every porn site trawled still risked destroying the family computer. The frontier was coming to an end, sure, but you’d have never known it for all the possibilities. Or poor HTML code design.

Anyone could write or collect or showoff about any number of things. And they did. And it was great. Like a sightseeing expedition between icebergs: you could climb or dive and explore one mass, then hop to another! It was all rather mundane but it felt like an adventure.

There was something wonderful about that, y’know? With comicbooks in particular, I remember discovering in high school and college how there was a whole slath of onliners with their own websites engaging in the exact kind of comics criticism and discourse I’d been chomping at the gums for—Factual Opinion, 4thLetter, Supervillian, Savage Critic, Jog the Blog,  Alec Berry, Graphicontent, besides a dozen or so more lost to time—people engaging with my favorite medium in a manner seemingly unobtainable among conversations attempted with close yet disinterested IRL friends or the socially awkward mouth-breathers huddling around the LCS counter every week simply to bitch incessantly about superhero continuity or taking Marvel vs DC partisanship too seriously. What I discovered instead was what I thought needed discussion already existed, and then some: pointed pontifications about craft; looooong essays codifying aspects of artistic canon and the history of an industry; passionate tracts about brightly colored, long-forgotten artefacts encountered in childhood; explorations into unfamiliar zines, roundtable conversations about anthologies, odd yet informative dissections of style between cartoonists, capsule reviews old and new…  basically, new manners of composition, new ways of conceiving or receiving ideas about things… all of which lead to wasting hours each day for a few weeks or months, anytime I discovered some new site to unpack… cycling through older posts to uncover what’s already been covered or where someone’s possible interests may life, trawling new posts to see how their voice continues extending, branching out in conceptions… shit, OK, now I’m probably romanticizing.

(And it probably goes without saying this notion of blogs never entirely went away, they continue to exist—they’re just seemingly perceived as something niche or unviable with the rise of user platforms and thus gotten less prominent as a result. Hence: this entire superfluous apologia of an opening to a post. Anyways.)

I like how metamorphic blogs seem. They can remain personal, yet always shift focus; you don’t necessarily have to be bogged down by professional strictures or writing formats. That’s half the reason I’m attracted to the idea. The other half is more simple: how writing is always about communication, somehow in some way. And sometimes a blog feels like my best hope for achieving that. I suppose form follows function. Or personal (dis)function sought a proper form. I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD since I was five and it shows: no sense of time management, poor executive functioning, an inability to find anchorage in immediate surroundings and goals unless stuffed full of legalized meth or traumatized into anxiety-laden behavioral change, etc. My manner of being is perhaps not so conducive to writing. I tend towards tangents, I prefer to ramble in conversation and thinking. I still prefer longhand in notebooks, if only because it’s better at forcing me to retain focus than a screen.

An urge to get by in life in some capacity by just writing always seemed undermined by an inability to follow through on promising starts, ever since I was a teenager. There was a point in my life when I was all ego & driven by nothing but an immolating desire, never spoken, to prove how much ‘better’ or ‘smarter’ I was than everyone else. Never mind how moronic that is, I simply ‘knew’ it was the case… and yet, as you can imagine, nothing ever actually got done during that long stretch. 

 It’s hard to know what came first: frustrated inability or the arrogance to prove something?

Nowadays I don’t feel that way much at all anymore. I’d much rather get to know somebody and what they like, or how they’re better at one thing than another, or where they apply their own smarts and why. There was a series of moments where my own life spiraled into control with a discovery of sleep, emancipatory politics, a possibility for love and an accumulation of knowledge & experience. Probably I could redirect my desires elsewhere now and be happy, but still: I want to write.  I need to talk about what enthuses me, to converse with myself about why something I encountered felt fascinating or meaningful or significant, whether there’s an audience to chime-in or not. Praise is mere sugar in the gas tank nowadays; the only person I have to prove anything to is myself.

I know my problems pretty well at this point: if I can’t motivate myself to do something, if I don’t care about something, I’m going to just procrastinate or lose interest and… end up sorta smoldering, listlessly. To mention nothing of how the everlasting issue of burnout management ties into everything. (Good things happen to those bestowed proper work-life balance, and making people grind for it until such a luxurious dynamic happens to them, well, that’s just a delicate dance of a spiritual style…nah I’m just kidding, fuck capitalist platitudes, seriously, GIVE US OUR TIME & ENERGY BACK).

I also know I like to dwell intently upon things. I like philosophy, I like critical analysis. I enjoy learning and making sense of abstract theory, contoured concepts, mathematical logics, metaphorical structures, descriptive deepdives. And I equally enjoy those modes with which such ruminations take shape: meandering rants, anecdotal spirals, academic scientism, poetic analogy, hilarious waves of aphorism, fictionalized fragments blurring with reality. I find as much joy getting caught up in those types of movements—figuring out how stuff works until it clicks in place while staring off into space, lost on an inward propulsion—as I do art itself. Probably because it stems from the same process: creative. To create is to trace an outline of what you wanna say, discovering it as you say it.

Maybe that’s the key.

I think my current living situation has finally helped me realize (and this is basic writer 101 shit, very silly it took so long!) the only way I can do these things I feel like I need to do is if I indulge a yearning to speak about them earnestly. And what I’m discovering is… what gets me most motivated is to creatively connect whichever process keeps me most excited about something with what I want to convey. To find the lines. To just throw out expectations and flow. To experiment with what works and what doesn’t.

To play with what I wanna say. Until one day, maybe, it becomes effortless. Or time-poverty is no longer a thing.

I’m going to try and carve out a space here, a realm of movement between language and ideas—that’s the most important part, that’s the ultimate goal. More than reviews, essays, journaling or interviews, I want this to be a space where I can trace snapshots of thought as they occur to me and constantly calibrate how I communicate them. A flux of learning crystalized as a receptacle of instants: calibretto platonia.

There’s a haste to create, even if it’s for something trivial as formulating a few random inconsequential thoughts. I don’t know what I’m accelerating towards but holy fuck do I have my foot on the pedal.

It’s gonna be dumb, it’s gonna be fun, maybe it’ll turn out inconsistent but I can assure you: it’ll never be boring.

Aight. Let’s do this.