Summer Pierre’s comics and textured realist drawings partner well in the September 2017 installment of Paper Pencil Life, the fifth issue of the New York-based cartoonist and freelance illustrator’s self-published serial collection of her work.
Black & white strips on these 6.5″ by 8.5″ pages take the shape of riffs on the creator’s work life, being a mother to her son Gus, or just vignettes about her Hudson Valley neighborhood.
I nodded along in agreement when I read one-pagers “The Morning After” and “16 Hours” in Paper Pencil Life #5, where Pierre writes in white-on-black narrative captions about grappling with the horror show that was the U.S. Presidential election. The tone is in parts somber and comedic, and there’s a lot of energy here. Pierre’s figures understandably wear exasperated expressions, each producing tiny sweat droplets and panicky, animated conversations. After logging onto the soaring hellfire that was Twitter back then (and now, every single day) in “16 Hours,” the artist’s scorched and bespectacled skeleton, propped up in front of a laptop amid curling flames outlined in thick black ink strokes, is all that remains. In the next panel: A very relatable image of Pierre in bed, weeping and hunched over against an all-black backdrop.
“What’s to become of us?” she asks in the darkness.
A “24-hour comic” completed in February (nearly everything’s dated) boasts two pages and a copious 40 uniform panels that pack in wildly varying perspectives to track a day in her life — there are close-ups of Pierre and friends at a drawing group, an exterior aerial viewpoint from behind her car on a snowy street, and more, each capped with a small timestamp in the top left corner of the panels. The cartoonist’s days are a lot like our own: hurried, fragmented, a spot of anxiety or a migraine, and little time to take a look around. But Pierre looks around frequently.
The stories collected for a previous endeavor, late 2016’s Souvenirs: A Travel Diary, feature annotated drawings of meals, rich micro-reproductions of Van Gogh’s paintings, and architecture, in South Holland’s wealth of arched rooftops. The personal nature and loose page structure of Souvenirs reminds me of Craig Thompson’s Carnet de Voyage, the cartoonist’s 2004 graphic travelogue of his Europe and Morocco trips. A comic from Pierre about arriving in Paris opens with a detailed full-width panel depiction of its Gare du Nord station.
“I couldn’t wait to step outside the train and be greeted by that great big space,” she writes.
The artist is engulfed by exhilaration, anxiety, and migraines-induced nausea after a long ride. But her impressions of the terminal’s grandiose interior, which she depicts in orderly rows of slender trains and a mathematical weaving of darkened beams and boxes for the terminal’s ornate ceiling, are sharp and perceptive.
While landscapes and free-standing architectural drawings are fully integrated in Souvenirs‘ comics, portraits and illustrations of old family vacation photos are often all refreshingly presented without context — or alternately, function just fine on their own — in Paper Pencil Life #5. They play out in stark contrast to the book’s sparse cartooning. Interesting page layouts are an improvement over what is a far more conventional and rhythmically straightforward fourth issue in late 2016 — there’s a nine-panel comic on nearly every page in #4 — and the new issue also finds Pierre capturing life along the Hudson River and reproducing vintage photography in heavily hatched detail.
A blog entry that hosts “3 Views from Today” went up before its inclusion in the published book in December of 2016, when nearly all Americans were reeling, at least according to the popular vote results. There’s a stillness and solitude to this impressive three-panel page, in which the spindly tops of dead trees peer over a McDonald’s sign in Pierre’s neighborhood. While no narrative copy appears in the print version, it says enough that the lonely drive-thru and cluster of darkened pitched roofs are positioned amid strips about self-care and fear of the repugnant, tyrannical episodes that would soon unfold on Pennsylvania Avenue. Little explanation is needed.
“I know that whatever is to happen, I have to begin again and try to know where I am,” Pierre wrote online at the time. “I do this through drawing and words. Even if it doesn’t make sense. Even if it feels foolish and pointless. This was true before this election and it remains true now.”
All images © 2016-2017 Summer Pierre. Paper Pencil Life #5 is available now.