Crossing the Empty Quarter and Other Stories
Carol Swain, writer/artist
Dark Horse, December 2009
200 pages, hardcover
Carol Swain’s panels are like prisons. They feel too narrow, too cramped for her dramatic angles, her furiously filled-in blacks and grays, her askew, sometimes even fish-eyed perspective, and her disorienting character close-ups. Thus they root you in this moment, then this one, then this one, force you to confront it head-on–often literally, bringing you right up against the face of the protagonist in each of this anthology’s thirty-plus short stories. Which is fitting, since they too are often rooted or even trapped themselves. Some are hemmed in by the metaphysical constructs of Swain’s daydreams or gentle magic-realist conceits–immovably knee-deep in the mud of the Atlantic, chained in the bedroom by overprotective parents who alternately rattle off the dangers of the outside world and the many knitting projects she could do inside, sealed in the black glass of fused sand created by a bomb blast in the desert, trapped in the middle of nowhere by faulty compasses and starless skies. Others are stuck in more quotidian predicaments–an immigrant’s plight, soft vote suppression, lots and lots of dead-end towns, lots and lots of dull grinding urban grayness, lots and lots of glimpses of a larger world that seem only to reinforce the futility of reaching further and higher. And yet, there’s always that lovely, lush shading and linework, a hint of softness, and with it a suggestion that maybe there’s reason to hope. I think that makes the book harder on you, ultimately. In hopelessness there’s release.