Breakdown Press’ hardback release of Anna Haifisch’s The Artist is a print compilation of nineteen strips that appeared on VICE.com between September 2015 and January 2016. Since then, VICE has also digitally published a second season of Artist strips. They are worth having on paper, worth appreciating in ink, but the choice of hardback (directly due to the desire to give paying customers something special, really tactile, to reward them) takes physical appreciation one level up. Though a little wider, a little taller, this book has the approximate width, the square spine, the feel and the smell of the Ladybird book, that treasured childhood companion. All of the joy of tactile remembrance, but less of the obviously apologetic self-indulgence of similar throwbacks currently available.
Nostalgia, that sensual retreat, functions as an extra layer of atmosphere, as the Artist himself seeks escape, regression, a way out of what’s recognisable as his unbearable adulthood.
Haifisch’s Artist is a skinny, bony birdboy. He’s pale, he has straggly ostrich-feather hair and big, empty eyes. His ribs are there all the time and he wears no clothes, except for occasionally hooded cloaks in title images. These only make him look furtive.
The Artist isn’t quite nihilistic but he’s terribly, terribly tender. Strip format compliments this, standing as little islands in a long stream of listless confusion. The Artist just isn’t sure. Imposter Syndrome, probably; he does appear to be a Millenial (like you) (and he feels, nu-huh, woo). He meanders, aspiring to greatness, assuming failure.
Captions urge the reader to treat artists gently — their definition of artists is wide, undemanding, teasing but with welcoming hands. The Artist doubts himself, his art, sees his business acumen with bleary eyes mistaken for clear ones. He scrolls through endless content instead of delivering his own. In pink, mauve, orange-red and yellow (with blue coming out only for tears, skies and jeans), the Artist experiences very normal disasters, is rescued by his parents, welcomed by his friends, and rewarded with smarties for trying even when rejected from exhibitions. The Artist is tender, and his world allows him to be. Even Haifisch’s lines, jerking and over-running, sparse, only outlines (never shading) let him be, let him hide, let him be — a la cliche/a la truth — his own greatest critic. The Artist fails at the artistic life: he makes no money, he is not afforded tremendous recognition. He fails at success and intepersonal recognition; he is grumpy and strange. He fails at social milestones and at social media. He is sad, bad, and unremarkable to know.
Yet he is an artist. He is an artist. He is The Artist.
Because he must. Because art compels. Because what else would he do? Because… he retains the hope that through art, he might save.
Perhaps you will let him inspire you.