Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Press Enter to Continue by Ana Galvan

One of the great things about translations is that you can dive right into someone mid-career. A fully-formed artist pops up in front of you, someone you've never heard of. But she's obviously been doing this a while, and has a clear look and style and viewpoint.

Ana Galvan is Spanish; I believe her Press Enter to Continue was the first collection of her work in English - it came out in 2019. Her work might look familiar to English-speaking people though: she does a lot of illustration work, including for the New York Times and Guardian.

The five stories here all share an art style and a method: they're chilly things, with lots of greens and blues, people drawn almost blankly, small faces with empty ovals for features. Overlays of color march across the page, in a style that's occasionally reminiscent of the 1980s. None of the stories are titled; the table of contents presents them as five diamond boxes - one image and a page number.

Her work doesn't all look like this - you'll realize that if you check out her advertising work. This is a choice and a decision: this book looks this way because it is a book. These are not just five separate stories.

The matter is as chilly and distanced as the style. A woman flees a tiger, in multiple overlapping images, as if showing the various outcomes in multiple universes. A young man joins a circus as the new trapeze artist, and meets an enigmatic colleague. A young woman has an odd job interview. A boy in a science-fictional world remembers a transformative camp experience, and looks forward to another. And a woman has visions of a boy, and learns unlikely secrets about those visions.

Galvan gives no easy answers or obvious conclusions: each story ends at a good moment, but they tend to be tense moments, moments where things will continue, even if we don't see that continuation. Like all stories, these end because they're things being told: the world doesn't begin or end.

These are attractive stories, stories told well, stories with visual style and storytelling focus - but not stories that will give you an easy way in or any guidance of how to read them. If you're willing to meet them there, they have a lot to offer.

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