Jordan Crane, writer/artist
finite webcomic, 2001-?
That question mark up there is doing a lot of work. I remember following Keeping Two in serialized fashion…but I don’t remember where. Were any installments in NON? Were they on Jordan Crane’s old Red Ink website? Did he make minicomics of them? Was maybe some of it in Uptight? The comic’s presentation on Crane’s gorgeous webcomics-anthology site What Things Do bears the date “18 December 2001,” but I have no idea what that means. I think that’s when it started? I don’t know when it ended. Hell, I don’t know if it ended. But I’ll get to that.
Jordan Crane’s comics are Mary Poppins’ maxim at work. The spoonful of sugar, and actually it’s more like a dumptruck full, is Crane’s art. His characters have the slightly disproportionate and adorable heads of children. They see the world through little dot eyes. They’re drawn with a line so soft you wanna reach out and pet it. His omission of periods at the end of sentences gives even the dialogue a vulnerable, open feel.
Then the medicine comes along, and it’s like one of those giant needles doctors admit in advance will hurt like hell. In the case of Keeping Two, the medicine is death. It’s presented here with shocking directness. When a baby is stillborn, you see his corpse, see his weeping mother hold him and say “Oh my sweetie”. When a dog dies, you see his body lying on the ground, eyes open, his owner’s recounting of her discovery of her dead best friend staggered out over the course of countless word balloons as though every word is an agony. I hadn’t read this stuff in a long time, and seeing it again knocked the wind out of me. It’s brutal and unflinching.
The story itself is a multifaceted look at a young couple on a day when death touches their lives in several ways: Through the book the woman is reading, through the passing of an acquaintance and the death of the man’s mom’s dog, and finally in the head of the man as the woman takes too long to return from the video store. (Video stores: Sign #1 this comic was started up a long time ago.) In a way it reminds me of Richard McGuire’s “Here,” dazzlingly complex but centered on absence rather than presence and stretched out for an entire story. The couple’s story is sequenced out of order, there are flashbacks, there are multiple perspectives on the same conversation, there’s a story within the story, there are multiple daydream sequences, there are scenes imagining what the real scenes must have been like, there are lengthy “Scott McCloud explaining manga”-type sequences of washing dishes, there’s an ending so open I’m not 100% convinced it is an ending…but it all circles around the direct and devastating image of a dotted-line silhouette where a person, a dog, a baby used to be, just like your mind does. That it’s so lovely to look at doesn’t soften the blow so much as aim it.