Friday, July 27, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #208: Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke

How do you know what you want? How do you know why you do the things you do? How do you know what's next for you?

Or do you know any of those things, really?

Kristen Radtke wants to know, and she's made the graphic story Imagine Wanting Only This to work it through for herself. I don't think she'd claim to know for sure the answers to any of those questions, but answers aren't always necessary -- just being able to formulate and ask the question is a good step. Just knowing what you don't know.

Imagine Wanting Only This is partially the story of Radtke's adult life, starting in college in Chicago and running through her years in grad school in Iowa and working life since then. It's as much about the questions and obsessions that concern her over that time: the sudden death of her beloved uncle Dan, the family congenital heart condition that caused his death and that she may have as well, how places humans live become ruined and abandoned and those places themselves. And, underlying all of that, the question of place, of belonging: of having a home you want to come back to or wanting to visit every new place possible.

Radtke narrates this, but Imagine Wanting Only This isn't a book of narrative: it's not about what happens next, who she's dating, what she's studying, where she goes and what she thinks about those places. This is a more literary memoir, the kind whose territory is centered in the author's head -- and we haven't seen those books in comics form much.

There are no answers, of course. There can be no answers when the questions are on that level.

Radtke's story is stronger than her art, to my eye. I'm not sure what tools she's using here, but I think they're mostly digital -- maybe working from photos, as well. Her characters tend to look static, as if placed individually, and her lines tend to have the same weight. The art is enough to carry the narrative, though, which is what it needs to do, and the slightly undersized pages, with broad white margins, make the book look like an artifact from some other comics-making culture.

(I haven't been able to find any comics-industry reviews of Imagine Wanting Only This; I'd like to see what people who know more about art than I do think about Radtke's work.)

Imagine Wanting Only This is a literary memoir, about decay and death and restlessness, broken things and lost places and limited time. If that sounds like your kind of thing, go for it: it's quite good at what it does.

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