Linen Ovens is a 2014 anthology featuring four cartoonists who would continue to carve out interesting paths in comics-as-poetry. Keren Katz, a rising star in the comics world, led off with "A Picture Of Health", a story that features a frequent motif in her work: a narrative thickness that is immersive in the sense that it demands a reader's full attention and a willingness to adhere to the frequently playful, absurd quality of her imagery. At the same time, Katz also uses a lot of negative space in her page design, letting the reader breathe and refocus their gaze on a page-by-page basis. Using colored pencil and a distorted figure composition, Katz weaves a tale about performance, celebration and secrets, as creatures pour from a tree to provide gifts and secrets. The use of color is dazzling and is crucial to moving the eye across the page in the ways in which Katz wants. The story follows the flights of imaginative fancy that follow after attending the ballet, with text that adheres to figures and creeps around the page. The tone is one of strange delight throughout the story, which befits the images.
Molly Brooks' "Selvage" leans heavily on its two-tone effect in addressing memory and place. The dark green of the sweater that's been knitted and its inner fibers is analogous to the narrator's thoughts, plans and dreams unraveling. The flashbacks to the finished sweater and a lover now gone add poignancy to the interminable Now the narrator finds herself in, having lost both a burden and a gift. Andrea Tsurumi's comics always tend to hew closer to light absurdism. In "Hectacle", there's a nursery rhyme cadence to the disparate set of farm-related images and the text that accompanies them, especially the phrase "biscuits and breath". Alexander Rothman's "The Thing In The Wall" is illustrative of one of his main interests: the poetic qualities of brief, quotidian moments. This story is about hearing a sound when one is about to drift off to sleep, a sound that shouldn't be there. It goes beyond simple fear or annoyance and instead follows a different path, as the narrator drifts into a dream (in a beautifully bright image that's a nice contrast to the greyscale of the other pages) and considers the way time is warped by perception, sleep and seasons. He ponders the theoretical existence of the animal he thinks he hears and mourns its theoretical passing in a touching panel where he's leaning up against a wall and the ghost animal is on the other side.
This is a strong, if short, anthology. It's a good forerunner/companion piece to Rothman's Inkbrick anthology and an excellent primer for just how broad a category comics-as-poetry can be. For Katz, it's about the image in itself that creates meaning. For Tsurumi, it's formal juxtaposition. For Brooks, it's poetic and abstract language that is aided by the drawings to help communicate the emotions involved. For Rothman, the images are conventional and the text is descriptive, but their combination is indicative of a place outside time and our conventional understanding of the everyday. It's a great place to start for those new to comics-as-poetry.