Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #87 by Drew Barth

Looking At What’s There

Abstraction is one of the key components of comics. Nothing we see on the page is real—we only ever see a representation of reality through an artist interpreting it. Comics are interesting since they can play with this abstraction and interpretation in ways many other visual mediums cannot. Seeing abstraction done well, however, is still rather rare. That’s why it’s refreshing to see works like Creation by Sylvia Nickerson and Cowboyby Rikke Villadsen. What these two creators do is work with the abstract in multiple ways—either with a new mother watching a city slowly being swallowed by gentrification or with the absurdity of cowboy masculinity.

What both comics do so well, though, is work with the idea of abstraction to almost absurd degrees. With Creation, Nickerson rarely draws detailed people. Instead, she opts for outlines of people that interact with beautifully laid out backgrounds and environments. What matters throughout her story of her and her newly born son is their environment—how they interact with and move through it. Creation presents us with the idea of the act of creation in the city of Hamilton, a place filled with toxic waste and smog, while working with the creation of human life. It is in the way Nickerson presents herself and her son as these abstract outlines that makes for a closer, more personal look at trying to create in a place that is slowly losing itself. We always see Nickerson as herself, but we can see just a little more of ourselves as well.

Rikke Villadsen’s Cowboy, on the other hand, works in a different kind of abstraction. While our characters all have names and faces, they’re caricatures rather than actual people. What Villadsen does so well throughout this comic is taking the expected and presenting it in an unexpected way. We expect gunslingers, bar fights, and heroism in cowboy literature. Instead we have these caricatures of cowboy media presented in a way that highlights the ridiculousness of their existence. And when one of them is killed, their mantle is flipped and taken by a woman who witnesses the murder. She steals a horse and rides out of her small town to become the cowboy that she believes she could be before dying. And the cowboy whose horse she stole? His role becomes hers—the woman watching cowboys from a window and wishing she could do something more.

The medium works the best when it’s representing what’s in front of us in the way the artist views the world. Creators like Nickerson and Villadsen are important in comics since their visions are clear—their works create a deeper understanding of the world in a way that only they can represent.

Get excited. Get abstract.


Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.