Jordan Crane: Keeping Two (Fantagraphics) | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, October 2nd, 2022  

Keeping Two

Fantagraphics

Jordan Crane

May 26, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


All the best things in life take time, and yet it’s natural to fear that same passing. In Keeping Two, the latest graphic novel from acclaimed cartoonist Jordan Crane, and an endeavour which has appropriately been in the offing for 20 years, time is less a linear pathway than a kaleidoscope of interconnected anxieties, hopes, and dreams. Centered on 30-something suburban couple Connie and Will, the main narrative is a mundane one. We meet the pair as they drive home amongst endless verdant hills of cars, barely making it in the door before they begin to bicker about whose turn it is to do what chore—Connie is urged to venture to the store for some errant coconut milk, while Will is left to slowly work his way through the dishes. And that’s when time starts to cave in on itself. It’s a disarmingly straightforward starting point for what is a resolutely complex work, each page opening the possibility of a new stream-of-consciousness diversion, leaving the reader inside each characters’ head as much as whatever constitutes reality.

Whenever the characters disappear into their own thoughts, typically in the face of the more prosaic aspects of their days, it’s often a wordless interchange, slipping from one panel to the next, the lines bordering the edge of each panel wobbling in the vein of a ’90s sitcom flashback. Thoughts spark other thoughts, threaded together wordlessly in page-after-page of 3x2 panels. In its frequent wordlessness, Keeping Two manages to touch profoundly on what it means to be absorbed by one’s interior musings, slipping between a scrambled series of distant remembrances and intrusive thoughts at the slightest trigger. In one scene a frustrated cigarette on the porch alone conjures up happier times spent together debating the shelf-life of one another’s smoking habits; in another, a missing character’s protestation that they’re not lost recalls basic safety training from a distant children’s camp out. Once imagined, those memories begin to echo throughout the narrative, a chain of recurrent images and moments playing out over and over, finding new contexts and meanings as a result.

Aesthetically, Keeping Two is no less ambitious—even if Crane’s style is notably minimal. What’s most immediately striking is how every panel is predominantly colored a faint lime green, only tempered by a sliding scale of fainter greens, the occasional white glare of a light, and the deep forestry darkness of the night. Crane matches his narrow palette with sparse line work, often using the bare minimum strokes to indicate shape or movement, although more granular details creep in from the most innocuous places, whether it’s the tight twist of a plume of water from a tap, or the multiple lines of shading cut through a pile of vomit left on the sidewalk. More noticeable are the hard block lines that Crane uses to denote sound, in contrast to the shaky, disconnected lines that knit together the various objects and figures in motion. Sometimes these hard lines appear as angular characters or runes, and sometimes as recognisably comic book onomatopoeia, albeit applied in more domestic contexts, like the “mk” of a gentle kiss, or the more shuddering “KSH” of a glass smashing. The lightness of touch with which these grace notes are implemented is a real credit to Crane’s craft.

The initial simplicity of the art makes the gradual unspooling of the novel’s timeline even more effective. In the most recurring of many nested narratives, we see Connie reading aloud from a book about a couple who’ve recently lost a baby at birth, Will sitting uncomfortably to one side as he honks his way through traffic. Drawing repeated parallels with Will and Connie’s own fears of loss, we join the story just as the fictional couple return from the hospital, huddled together in a taxi cab, the heavy emotive weight of the missing child illustrated literally with a dotted line. Everywhere they should have been, every place their presence would have been felt—maybe even would have felt overwhelming—there’s instead a visible gap. It’s a motif that’s played with throughout the book, coming to represent the absence of promised life landmarks as much as it does more visible and tangible losses, a series of blank slates on which to project raw grief and unspoken hopes. Some may find the directness with which Crane aims to prove emotionally affecting slightly off-putting, but the sincerity and gorgeous subtlety of the imagery cuts through.

More than anything else, Keeping Two is about the cruel necessity of perpetual forward motion in the face of personal tragedy or apathy, and the hardships that arise from such a fundamental disconnect between self and society. No matter the personal stakes, or the drowning pressure of your trauma, the world around you continues to rotate, and those most mundane of tasks never cease to bleat for attention. The dishes won’t ever stop needing washing, as much as that shopping list won’t ever get any shorter. Even escapism in the context of Keeping Two amounts to sharing a novel with a similarly morbid subject matter; an opportunity for Crane to fold in a metatextual consideration of his own propagation of that unerring cycle of hurt. There’s a stark opposition there with that oft-repeated adage “time heals all wounds,” and yet, by the end, time has had a transformative impact on the titular two. When the panelled format is finally shattered, the sensation is akin to pure catharsis, another simple but rapturous use of the medium to reflect the cycle being broken. Needless to say, this is a masterful example of how art can take something as fundamental to our human experience as time, and turn it on its head. (www.fantagraphics.com/products/keeping-two)

Author rating: 9/10

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