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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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04/19/2006 Archived Entry: "Comic review: Conversation #2"

Conversation #2
by Jeffrey Brown & James Kochalka
Top Shelf Productions

Review by Tom Good

I found myself comparing this comic to the movie The Five Obstructions. Both involve two artists coming together to confront the nature of their craft. In Conversation 2, Jeffrey Brown and James Kochalka discuss their reasons for drawing comics and their concepts about art. Their conversation evolves into a humorous brawl involving a mop used as a weapon. In The Five Obstructions, Danish director Lars von Trier challenges fellow director Jorgen Leth to remake one of Leth's earlier movies several times, under a variety of difficult and seemingly arbitrary conditions. I have enjoyed Brown and Kochalka's comics, whereas I had little prior interest in von Trier and Leth's work. In spite of that, I liked The Five Obstructions much better than Conversation 2, and I think it is because the comic asks the wrong questions.

The problem with asking an artist why he creates his art is that the answer is unlikely to be very interesting. No matter whether he replies, "to pay the rent," or "because I'm bad at math and couldn't be an accountant," or "for the fame," what have we learned? Does it matter that Brown gave none of these answers? He said, "I want to feel like my life has a sense of purpose, and making these books feels like I'm contributing to the world." That may be a sincere answer, but how illuminating is it? Kochalka said, "My ambition is to create an art so natural & free that it transcends notions of quality." My instinctive response to that is to think: well that's nice, but I don't really care whether or not that is his goal. I'm interested in how he makes his art look natural and free, not the trivial fact that -- like many artists -- he wants to.

In The Five Obstructions, von Trier and Leth do not fall into the trap of spending the whole time talking about why they make movies and what they hope to achieve. Instead, von Trier makes some difficult demands of Leth: he must film in Cuba without constructing sets, each edit must be no more than 12 frames long, and other odd conditions. The way Leth works around these restrictions tells us a lot about the kind of director he is and what he wants his movies to be, without the need for him to explain it in words. The movie held my interest because rather than tell us what Leth wante to create, it shows us what he actually created in response to these challenges.

In short, I wish Brown and Kochalka would stop having imaginary battles with mops and start having real ones with art. They are the sort of artists who could create the comics equivalent of The Five Obstructions, once they get over their fascination with the question of why they draw. On the plus side, this book did entertain me visually. Each artist appears drawn in his own characteristic style, so it was fun to see the mixture of styles on the same page.

See also:
Review of American Elf by James Kochaka
Review of Bighead by Jeffrey Brown

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