guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

Igort, Baobab #1-3 (Fantagraphics, 2005- ), $7.50 each.

By Jared Gardner

I have been mesmerized by Igort’s Baobab since the first issue appeared in 2005, inaugurating the international publishing experiment, the Ignatz Collection. Over the intervening months and years, we have touched upon some of the many highlights in this series of beautiful comics albums, but we have yet to write one word about the series by the man who started this strange and wonderful enterprise rolling. I have been waiting for the clarity and precision to describe Baobab properly, rereading precious issues waiting for the illumination to allow me to describe in words what he is doing on the page. Now that the third issue is finally published, however, I realize I have been waiting in vain. There will be no burst of illumination to hold it all in place, at least not in the lifetime of guttergeek. This is a dream history of dreamers and the picture stories they tell resist, in the best sense, our desires to condense it into plot summary or prose narrative.

Once completed (when? how long?), we may begin to understand the connections between the two main storylines, one set in early 20th century Japan and one in the fictional South American island of Parador. But I don’t believe that the payoff of the series will lie in such tyings-off, or even on the level of story at all. Technically,
Baobab is a virtuoso performance, one that puts on display a creator at the height of his powers allowing himself to expand and dilate in the safe spaces of these broad pages. It is also an experiment in uncovering an unconscious history of the collective dreams that led to the birth of the modern comics form in the early years of the last century. Once completed, it will rival The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay as the most searching and illuminating inquiry into the fears and fantasies at the heart of our love of this form. But unlike Chabon’s masterpiece, Baobab will continue to resist our attempts to summarize its discoveries, requiring us to return to the pages to recover our sense of the global connections that sequential comics have forged.

Some of these global connections are realized, of course, in the other creators Igort has invited into the Ignatz series.If
Baobab is in part a tribute to the pioneers of sequential comics who created this form and set in motion its magic more than a century ago, it is also a celebration of the ongoing and ever-widening circles of magic that define it today. In the pages of Baobab it is hard not to see a kind of call-and-response to some of those who have joined in the Ignatz series, including the dark magic of David B., the dilated grief of Anders Nilsen, the magic realism of Gilbert Hernandez, and the witty intelligence of Kevin Huizenga. Baobab is as much about the magic that the Ignatz series itself represents as it is about the scene of origins that is its setting, and as Igort absorbs and learns from those he publishes, his comic continues to evolve. This is why, ultimately, this will not be a graphic narrative easily blurbed; nor, if it were to be collected, would it be as meaningful and beautiful separated from the other volumes in this series.