Kenton Smith reviews INDOOR VOICE for the Winnipeg Free Press

Canadian-born, raised artist's sketches amuse, entertain

Winnipeg Free Press    |    Kenton Smith    |    October 2, 2010

THIS slender graphic novel isn't an art book of the coffee-table standard. It's compact, has no gloss, limited colour and perhaps no truly "finished" artwork. It's all sketches, drawings and roughly rendered comics.

That doesn't necessarily mean anything. After all, the sketch has been recognized has possessing its own intrinsic value since the Renaissance.
And Canadian-born and raised Jill Tamaki is a gifted artist. She's best known for drawing Skim, a graphic novel written by her cousin Mariko Tamaki. The book generated press over its Governor General's Award nomination, the first for a comic.
Yet Tamaki -- Jill, that is -- got snubbed: only cousin Mariko's authorship was recognized. That prompted Canadian cartoonist titans Seth (George Sprott) and Chester Brown (Louis Riel) to pen an open letter of protest, championing the equal contribution of the artist in a comic's creation.
Certainly Tamaki (the artist) deserved the nod: Skim's power and delicate tone is enabled immeasurably by her moody ink drawings, which are much closer in spirit to fine art than conventional graphica.

Also, consider her striking work in such magazines as The New Yorker, Esquire and The Walrus. She may reside in Brooklyn but Tamaki remains one of this country's most outstanding young illustrators.
Many of the drawings in Indoor Voice also showcase her adroitness with pen and ink, capturing the same gloomy esthetic as in Skim. Tamaki also repeatedly displays a flair for the grotesque.

The best parts are her sketchy comics work: the first page features a classic six-panel page, untitled, concerning nothing more than a mother trying to get her kid to slow down on the sidewalk. It's structured as a classic gag sequence, and leads to a droll punchline.
Equally amusing is He said I could be a model, which considers the phrase in multiple contexts. Three NYC honks, part of several Brooklyn Follies, is also hilarious, as is A Brief History of Feminist Thought.
One three-panel sequence involving a car and a blinking red dashboard light is almost impossible to describe with justice -- the impact is purely visual, and so delightfully simple in concept. Then there's a sequence with a lost pipe that boasts an unexpected twist ending.

Yet it's Four Simple Sex Scenes that shows up the book's shortcomings. Here's a series of narratives that suffer precisely from a lack of completeness: a more finished, sensual effect is precisely what's required for what are essentially works of condensed erotica.
So is Indoor Voice worthwhile? For art, graphics and comics enthusiasts, there's material of interest, for certain. Yet for the uninitiated, the more polished Skim is probably a better book-form introduction to Tamaki's distinguished work.

Kenton Smith is a Winnipeg-based writer, critic and comics enthusiast.

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