Category: Recent Reads

Meags Fitzgerald’s ‘Photobooth: A Biography’

After ten or so years of exploring and experimenting with automated photography, Canadian writer and illustrator Meags Fitzgerald found herself crowd-funding travel and reporting expenses in 2012 for what would become Photobooth: A Biography, a nonfiction graphic work that’s one-half diary comics-styled storytelling and one-half comprehensive history of vintage photo booths. Fitzgerald can’t help it — she’s long been enamored of photo booths, specifically of chemical photo booths. In her debut book’s prologue, amid a fluid array of explanatory copy, mechanical drawings, and diagrams, each defined in rigid black lines and grayed-out in swathes of charcoal, chemical photo booths are carefully dissected. Fitzgerald looks fondly back at high school in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada when she deemed herself “the photo booth girl.” A meaty discussion follows in Photobooth of how the chemical/wet chemistry booth works, as opposed to digital photo booths, the production of which “has drastically altered the chemical photo booth industry.”

meags fitzgerald photobooth

Meags Fitzgerald’s book is a dense study (and probably not ideal for those uninterested in the subject), but there’s a balance to her work — the sort of formal examination of photo booths that we might find in a college textbook is bolstered by deep anecdotes and observations, while the reasoning as to why she’d do this (why comics, why photo booths) is honest and smart. “By researching the past and by piecing together my own memories,” she writes, “I’ve tried to construct portraits, sometimes to celebrate and other times to commemorate, the ultimate portrait-making machines.” In Part I, that commemoration is pinned to a timeline that connects Fitzgerald’s subject matter to the birth of automatic photography machines in 1839, as there are “approximately seven predecessors” to the modern photo booth.

meags fitzgerald photoboothDetail-rich drawings of early photography devices appear alongside contextual patches of copy, each set off by the date at the center of the discussion. Fitzgerald’s illustrative style shifts sporadically throughout the book, which lends a likely intentional sketch diary aesthetic to her work (she cited a similarly plotted Carnet de Voyage from creator Craig Thompson as an influence in a chat with Cult Montreal writer Kayla Marie Hillier). There are technical drawing chops on display in Photobooth for sure, but in Part I, polished portraiture is blended with a fascinating handful of renderings of Siberian photographer/technician Anatol Josephowitz that mirror the careful chisel work required of woodcut. Also supportive of the “diary” look here is that the narrative text in Photobooth is never boxed-off. Fitzgerald instead builds out white spaces against the soft grey strokes that define the book’s occasional newsprint-like backdrop.

meags fitzgerald photobooth

An abbreviated version of Anatol Josephowitz’s place in the history of automatic photography might be known to some — he debuted the first photo booth in New York City in 1925, which dealt eight photos per strip in eight minutes. After having drawn “crowds up to 7,500 per day,” wrote the Toronto Star‘s Ryan Bigge in 2008, Josephowitz sold the patent rights to his machine for a sizable sum and the “Photomaton soon spread across America.” Capped by a lovely full-page portrait of the first Photomaton (“fourteen years in the making”), with her venturesome linework tracing the swirl of the wood grain of the booth’s panels and the floor beneath it, Meags Fitzgerald’s chronicling of Josephowitz’s contributions are integral to Photobooth‘s subject matter. Her telling of his actually quite complicated role is clever and specific. Newspaper clippings and passports litter the pair of pages that detail Josephowitz’s early years, and Fitzgerald directs her attention to the varied geography that dots his backstory, producing evocative charcoal drawings of hilly Manchuria, a Manhattan skyline, and Shanghai, where a cluster of hanging street banners dangles overtop a busy street scene.

When Fitzgerald connects her enthusiasm for photo booths to her comic’s rigorously reported background — she spoke with collectors, technicians, photobooth owners, and more to establish a thorough history — she traces her interest to the early 2000s, when she found photo booth pictures of her mother from when she was in her twenties. From there, Fitzgerald describes a rhythmic “adrenaline rush” that she equates with the experience of being in a photo booth. “Taking pictures became a personal ritual” for her as a teen, which opened her world up to performing improv, making experimental art, and more.

meags fitzgerald photoboothFramed frequently in drawn strips of photo booth pictures (each rooted in Fitzgerald’s collection) or illustrated photos of the author and her friends, Photobooth‘s intimate memoir pages are interspersed with loads of contextual material. Anatol Josephowitz’s story and that of the photo booth continues, and so does Meags Fitzgerald’s. Renderings of photo booths over the years are given splash page treatment, and the creator maintains the book’s loose visual structure throughout, as informative text gets paired with staggered drawings of vintage ads, portraits of major and minor players in the machine’s history, and precise mechanical illustrations of technical improvements that have been made over time. Stories from Fitzgerald’s varied sources are documented with narrative flair, and while the subject matter so often calls for a straightforward, realist approach on the visual end, sometimes a whole page is overrun with clever design. There are florid patterned borders, magazine-style pull quotes from the artist’s interviews, and even striking psychedelic flourishes. In Photobooth, it’s as if we get a thorough history lesson from one of those teachers who can do nothing to stem her obvious affinity for the material. And as expected, the experience is better for it.

All images © 2014 Meags W. Fitzgerald. Buy the book from Conundrum Press.

Veil, Genesis

comics veil genesis
Miles from the reach of the power-hungry upper class families, espionage plots, or Gotham City Police Department office interiors that have populated his well-known comics — thus far, anyway — Greg Rucka’s Veil is dark and really strange. The only dialogue in the first issue of the new Dark Horse series takes place between three people, and the utterances from its main character are minimal and usually the products of her repeating someone else. Veil, the mysterious doe-eyed protagonist after whom the book is named (or she at least borrows the name from a nearby neon sign), emerges naked from a closed subway station at the story’s onset. She’s lost, confused, and unable to communicate on her own. By the time we get to the final panels, however, Veil exhibits some deadly telekinetic powers.

comics veil genesis

A seemingly “Good Samaritan” type named Dante whisks Veil away from a volatile situation in a sort of “red light district/1980s-era NYC Times Square” setting near the subway entrance of issue #1, and while she doesn’t have a clear handle on stringing words together in a sensible manner, she gains a better grasp on language in the second issue, where the mystery deepens and a bit of black magic is stirred in.

Veil‘s slowly unfolding tale gets a glossy, spooky feel from artist Toni Fejzula, who also colors the book. Fejzula’s figures look as if they’re built of stained glass — cheekbones are made prominent by sharp-edged dark patches, and each of Veil‘s dewy, expressive faces, even those who stand mute in the background, glow to a degree that renders a bit dim the busy array of neon bulbs in the story’s opener. At the close of the first issue, a tense scene in front of Dante’s apartment gets a backdrop that mirrors mosaic art, as a set of fractured shards heighten the energy of the panel that has Veil mentally upending a situation that could’ve proven fatal for her when she compels gunmen to off themselves instead of her and Dante. All of these bright colors and playfully artificial human features, some of which remind me of the puffy-faced types that UK comics creator Hannah Berry paints, are a refreshing break from the norm on these bigger titles.

comics veil genesis

comics veil genesisAn all-powerful figure is also at the center of a new one-shot/graphic novella from Image called Genesis, which boasts psychedelic illustrations and a ponderous script. Writer Nathan Edmondson’s story of a miracle worker — on the cusp of what appears to be his 30s, a man suddenly finds himself capable of bending reality to his will, a power that proves incredibly difficult to manage — brims with horror and hallucinatory sci-fi elements. The art and general framework of the book is bold and fresh. Action that might be anchoring one panel will occasionally spill over into another, or a subway platform will give way to a bottomless canyon, the ridges of which contorting and shifting to yield a skull-like facade when the perspective changes on the subsequent page. This all owes to UK-based artist Alison Sampson’s hybrid of fantasy and rather defined architectural design. Sampson has a background in architecture (see a deep Robot 6 talk here about the art), and while the front end of Edmondson’s story calls for a more rigid, reality-based aesthetic, she has a lot of room to flesh-out the less tangible days that follow for Genesis‘s lead character.

comics veil genesis

Alongside its nod to the all-powerful beings in classic superhero comics, particularly those in origin stories coming to grips with their abilities, there is a strong Biblical undercurrent to Genesis. Edmondson’s script follows a man called Adam, who is essentially a creator “blessed” with an ungovernable, unlimited power. The word “create” appears twice on the book’s first page, and before long, allusions to verses and parables follow, such as those that appear in the Book of Genesis, or of the Book of Mark’s “loaves and fishes” parable. Sampson’s visuals get more complicated as the story evolves, and colorist Jason Wordie’s pastels and use of gradients look a bit like those in Daytripper, a Vertigo book that’s also steeped in themes of creation, life, and death. There’s a lot to see here — but don’t skim too quickly past the splash page that focuses on Adam’s childhood home. It’s tucked behind a gorgeous floral wall set off by the rich red tree branches from the street and Wordie’s pistachio green sky. Sampson is equally equipped to amplify space on these pages as she is to utilize it fully, filling-out the facades of small village homes in one panel with such rich detail that you can nearly see inside the windows. Before Adam returns to the house where he grew up, he watches from the road and seems to be taking a few minutes to gaze admiringly at Sampson’s intricate linework from below. Who can blame him?

Veil images © 2014 Toni Fejzula. Genesis images © 2014 Alison Sampson.