Noah Van Sciver's Disquiet Collection Produces Exactly That

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Noah Van Sciver's <i>Disquiet</i> Collection Produces Exactly That

Writer/Artist: Noah Van Sciver
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Release Date: June 7, 2016

Whoever picked the title of this collection of Noah Van Sciver’s shorter work (probably Van Sciver) did a fine job: disquiet is the abiding feeling it produces. Not that the description is new to the cartoonist’s work. Van Sciver tends to work in a vein of anxiety, pumping up the tension like he’s inflating a bicycle tire beyond its recommended PSI. Disquiet contains 14 stories, more or less, with single-page non-narrative drawings woven between them, done in a more painterly style, in color, and often taken from album covers, movies or found images. The reason I say more or less is that entry “Dive Into That Black River,” which kicks things off, is a two-page spread that reads as a panel-less and almost narrative-less story. A man drifts through a terrible dark space, menaced by skeletons and demons. Then it ends. It’s more a statement to frame the book—there is scary shit out there in the world, whether produced by your own mind or not—than a “story,” per se.

But Disquiet isn’t unrelenting in its quest to make you uncomfortable. Those interstitial illustrations exist as breathers, but you will also find silliness (“Punks V. Lizards”) and a fairy tale (“The Cow’s Head”). Even in those reprieves, however, characters cock their heads in mental pain and indecision, torn between alternatives, brows furrowed.

One benefit to these types of collections is witnessing an artist try on different styles, and Van Sciver demonstrates a wide range of skills. His most recognizable trait is a sort of lumpy line, accented with considerable rough, angry cross-hatching in the background, but he also employs a bit of zip-a-tone, some more restrained black and whites, a frantic color story (“The Death of Elijah Lovejoy”) full of flame and blood, a muted two-page strip full of skies and sunsets, a story about working in a bakery that seems to have been inked and then colored with crayons, and a single-page “About the Artist” that leaks colored ink out of its panels. It’s a variety show, in other words, but with some thematic and visual threads to create a more unified feel than an anthology by different artists.

Disquiet Interior Art by Noah Van Sciver

In any of the examples, Van Sciver is definitely telling a story. Not all of the bits embrace first-person narration, but a fair number do. Like the songs of Liz Phair, the autobiographical feel doesn’t necessarily mean the stories Van Sciver relates happened to him, but he has a way of making you feel like they did through telling details. In “It’s Too Much Reality,” there’s a kind of sweet, melancholic nothingness that fits with the holiday season during which it takes place. Even the wilder narratives, if they don’t feel like nonfiction, recall the sensation of lying in bed while someone spins you a story, true or not. They may be disquieting, but they’re weirdly comforting, too.

Disquiet Interior Art by Noah Van Sciver