The Awake Field
Ron Regé, Jr., writer/artist
Drawn & Quarterly, April 2006
Originally written on July 23, 2006 for publication in The Comics Journal
Everything is magical to Ron Regé, Jr. This is his greatest strength as a cartoonist. His trademark line, equally weighted throughout the page and shot through with exclamatory dashes that radiate outward from nearly every character (even inanimate objects, in many cases), gives his work a vibrant, vibratory glow. Each page becomes a miniature epiphany, or at the very least an enjoyable semi-psychedelic experience, like an Ambien hallucination. Over the past few years Regé has employed this singular style to varying effect; its greatest exponent is his graphic novel Skibber Bee-Bye, wherein Regé uses it to elevate and enhance at first whimsy and then horror to almost rhapsodic levels. But in works like Yeast Hoist #11 (centering on a slideshow-esque series of depictions of Regé sleeping in other people’s apartments during a road trip) or Regé’s mini-comic contribution to McSweeney’s #13 (a painfully credulous account of a failed suicide bomber), it’s as though the power of his art enables Regé to coast, taking for granted that we too will see the beauty in all things, be they boring or bestial. In other words, everything is magical to Ron Regé, Jr., and this is his greatest weakness as a cartoonist as well.
Thankfully, it’s the strength that comes through in The Awake Field. And boy, does it ever. This slim, slick volume (I love its bendable, laminated cover) is perhaps the best argument yet for why Regé belongs at the forefront of the form. There’s the format, for starters: You’d have to turn to one of Kevin Huizenga’s Or Else issues to find a one-man anthology comic this exquisitely structured, with each strip or vignette leading perfectly to the next like a concept album. Right from the opening chapter, in which a series of bird’s-eye-view splash pages draw us through an open bedroom window to soar alongside a family of glowing spritelike beings through an explosion of vegetation and stony architecture beyond, Regé makes clear that his interest is in drawing you in and pushing you along. A handful of collaborations with his bandmate-slash-babymama Becky Stark, especially the perfectly touching “The Hazard Rocks” (adapted from a children’s poem by Stark called “The Stranger and the Mouse”) imbue the book with the hermetically-sealed, world-of-two joy that lovers who are truly on the same wavelength can produce. This blend of romance and mania is also present in “Finding Privacy in the Hypnotist’s Ballroom,” a rapturous “dance routine presented as 8 cartoon panels” that contains an unexpected belly laugh (a stand-alone shot of the dancer’s boyfriend standing there immobile after the dancer throws a towel on his head) and an homage to Magritte’s “Les Amants” (much less ambiguous in tone, of course).
The book draws to a close with a crescendoingly wordy succession of strips and panels centering on Regé and Stark’s belief in the imminent “invention” of peace on Earth. It’s genuinely moving–not because their recipe, involving as it does phrases like “impulses of consciousness in an infinite field of light,” stands much of a chance of success, but because for the duration of this comic Regé gives you a glimpse of what such a world looks like to him. It is, indeed, magical.