Back + Forth by Marta Chudolinska
The second in a series of graphic novels edited for the Porcupine’s Quill by wood engraver George A. Walker in which Walker encourages students at the Ontario College of Art & Design to embrace 19th century linocut printmaking techniques to create extended visual narratives which are then scanned, digitized, and subsequently printed offset for publication at popular prices in a format that uses 20th century offset printing technology to replicate the look and ‘feel’ of a 19th century letterpress product.
Location exerts one very important influence on our lives.
The specific landscape, structure, weather and people of a cityscape combine to create a unique culture of place; a ‘place’ that can define us as succinctly as we might like to think we control our own definitions of self. Aviation allows many of us to live, almost simultaneously, in distant places and to indulge in the complexities of multiple lives. Back + Forth examines the attendant possibility of entrapment, between two such distant places and two, very different, times.
Back + Forth examines what it means to belong, to assimilate, to be distant, and to challenge the constraints of time and space in the juggling act that we all call life.
Series editor George A. Walker is renowned as an illustrator (for American novelist Neil Gaiman, and others), a wood engraver, and a private press printer and publisher. Walker is also senior designer at Firefly Books, and moonlights teaching at the Ontario College of Art and Design.
2010—Doug Wright Award,
2010—ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year,
‘I found the narrative line of this wordless novel very easy to follow, and very evocative. The use of varied perspectives in the linocuts gives a sense of spaciousness, of an observing, outside eye. For example, in the first image we are looking down at a bedroom from above; in another, we are looking up a staircase leading out of the subway; in yet another we have the character barely appearing as she stares out the bus window and there is a real sense of movement in the print. I enjoyed this book, and as I haven’t had a lot of experience with this type of story, I was relieved to find it engaging and quite complex.’
—Melanie, The Indextrious Reader
‘Back+Forth has a very real-feeling quality to it, despite its nebulous meanings
and seeming intentional lack of conclusions; perhaps this is due to its location in recognizable places or the ease of identifying with some of its most clear-cut plot points
such as riding a bus, having sex, or sitting and thinking in a coffee shop. While ‘‘reading’’
what amounts to a high-art picture book for adults can be dislocating, it is also very
rewarding; Back+Forth sets out to probe readers’ understandings of narrative and
character, and does it well.’
—Patty Comeau, ForeWord Reviews
‘Back + Forth is both a homage to place and a powerful depiction of a young woman’s search for love and belonging in the modern landscape. The character cycles through a series of relationships, a couple with not so happy endings, that in the end seemingly free her of the pursuit and leave her alone and content as the road unfolds before her.’
—Wessel and Liberman Booksellers
Location. Location. And location. Reading Douglas Coupland many years ago, I was struck by his ability to use his home town as the setting for his writing, which has presented Vancouver to the imaginations of his many readers throughout the world. When I read Coupland’s books set in Greater Vancouver (Hey Nostradamus! or Girlfriend in a Coma), I felt that someone should attempt a similar thing for Toronto, a boisterous city of my acquaintance which few are inclined to celebrate. Reading Coupland’s work, I was encouraged to draw on my own, local experiences in favour of setting narratives in exotic venues such as Manhattan, or Berlin. I resolved to create a set of new, uniquely Canadian icons.
Back + Forth is a wordless graphic novel of 90 linocuts, a traditional block printing format popular in the 19th and early 20th century. The book tells the story of a young woman coming to terms with her place in the world, her sexuality and her self. The story follows the character through her daily grind in Vancouver. She falls asleep on the bus and wakes up to find herself on the Toronto subway. She seems ambivalent to this change and continues on her journey. Throughout the book she wakes up back and forth between these two places and two separate lives. In Vancouver, she is challenged by an intense state of loneliness, while in Toronto she must chart the rocky waters of a failing relationship. The setting is indicated by familiar landmarks, landscapes and weather conditions. It is up to the reader to determine whether she’s dreaming, remembering or breaking the boundaries of time and space.
In style, I was inspired by the Flemish painter, Frans Masereel, a wood engraver who created wordless novels at the beginning of the twentieth century. Masereel’s style is vivacious, focused more on expression and energy than on completely accurate representation, Masereel’s characters are still alive on the page a hundred years later; their sorrow, anger and joy jumps vividly off the page just as strongly as when the blocks were first engraved. This approach strongly influenced the way I worked on Back + Forth. Though a few photographic references were used for specific landmarks, more frequently I drew the images directly onto the block, grappling with the emotional charge of the images rather than the perfection of the rendering. The physical nature of block-cutting delivers images that contain something of the energy of the hand that pushed the craving tools. I hope that this energy is something that resonates with my readers.
‘... looks fantastic, and is probably the first graphic novel in engravings of any kind to feature an image of someone watching online video.’
Marta Chudolinska is a printmaker, bookbinder and painter fascinated by narrative imagery. Born in Pruszkow, Poland in 1984, Marta immigrated to Canada with her family in 1991. The experience of immigration has inspired her to explore and to cherish the diverse regions that Canada has to offer, from coast to coast. A recent graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design, she currently lives and works in Toronto.