Gazebo Books, $29.99 pb, 200 pp
The strength of comic strips, like poetry, can derive from concise language and startling images. With Bulk Nuts, the latest addition to Mandy Ord’s long list of autobiographical comics and graphic novels, the Melbourne cartoonist attains a new level in her work. One of the ways she does this is by cutting back on words and presenting more considered, finished drawings. Through verbal economy and graphic surety, this collection of comic strips directs our flow of reading deftly from word to image and back again. Several stories end with the light gravity of a haiku or the hesitancy of e.e cummings.
Over the decades that Ord has been producing comic strip stories, we have witnessed her develop a personal iconic picture language, and in Bulk Nuts she has honed the images to a high level of finish. To a long-time observer of Ord’s work, the drawings here are clearer, finer, more precisely observed and produced. She has always been attentive to the ways that black ink falls from her brush to the page, but the brushwork in this book is particularly acute, teetering between representation and a purely graphic emotionality. Ord’s visual metaphors are also a major contributor to her narrative voice: the heavy vocal knottiness of parents fighting, the snaky fingery acquisitive ogling at a trash and treasure market, the vibratingly smarmy responses from the guy in the television show Knight Rider to KITT, his talking car. Ord’s visual correlatives for sound and physical action lead us further along the garden path of her cartooning dialect, which develops readerly intimacy with the emotional tone and sense of humour in these comics, which has to do with vulnerability and an appreciation of the natural world.