Written and illustrated by Jordan Crane.
Colors by Jordan Crane with Gary Musgrave.
Pubished by Fantagraphics Books.
Blunt force trauma to the head hurts your eyes. Those stars you see are because, inside your skull, things are out of place. This is a comic, however, so we get to stand outside of the skull while still treated to the light show. And every diamond, sparkle, and burst is placed on the page perfectly. Jordan Crane hangs a curtain in Keeping Two. Watch as they step from the car crash and through it.
Cluttering the page is Crane’s illustrated representation of sound. Sound is a presence that marks the page. Black blocks tumble from the keys as they hit the table by the door. Strokes pour out of a phone and line up along the dashboard, room we need to be able to see the road. Keeping Two is plagued by intrusive thoughts, the narrative being interrupted and obfuscated by reverie, the reader’s ability to perceive the moment at times pushed out by a tempest of noisy marks.
Keeping Two is filled with comics conceits that shouldn’t work but do. The ghost is standing right there, an empty space with a dotted line around it, the shape of a memory. Straight out of the funny pages and so incredibly not a joke. Quite the opposite, Keeping Two’s real blunt force trauma victim is you. Crane has created a work of incredible suffering. Pain and fear and love. It is a complicated story, stories within stories that reflect upon each other, of a couple, lousy driving, fighting, making up. Reading a book and fearing the worst. Acting on it.
Horror comes to pass, not at all as predicted, but still casting a long shadow of anxious inevitability before it. Devastated, vindicated, the reader must decide what to make of these static stars that hang in the panel. The cloud rises from hot soup, the kitchen could be a forest floor, it’s all beautiful when you’re holding me. If that’s the only thing that is certain, it’s enough. Layers of story. Mixing memory, fantasy, and a second, inner story (a book being read) that reflects some of the more traumatic things happening in the outer story. The blend is a comics thing, third person perspective but a shared experience between character and reader, the ideas inside the guy’s head get their own panels and presence that is equal to reality in every way but a wavy panel border. The argument in the car earlier, but remembering with them now, not traveling in time to see it when it happened. The book gets its own panels. When you read a book and just go away, that. But the story in the story bews up more fantasies and worries. Where is she? Is she okay?
You are on steady ground re: what is real and what isn’t- at first- but you experience the emotions from everything equally. Just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean an upsetting book doesn’t effect you. A jumble of recalling the vivid suicidal ideation from the book read in the car and imagining the million horrible things that could happen to a loved one if fate turns cruel that isn’t slowed down by the drinking. The pitch of the traumatizing acts of imagined self-harm rises to the point where everyone is upset, even us.
A series of subversions follows. Boyfriend observes, why are we putting ourselves through being brutalized by this story for a dark and ambiguous ending? Girlfriend’s counterpoint, the reader brings the final piece to an open ending. The bad or good of what happens after the story concludes is up to us.
Expect something terrible to happen. It does. But we don’t get the open ending we’re expecting. What’s more, the reader is spared the anticipated agony of the tragedy that happens. Through impossible trees and a veil of bubbles and flash we perceive what we hoped- needed- would, against the odds, occur. But getting what we want feels like it can’t possibly be. Do we give in to doubt? Is this heaven, or life, or dream?
The entire book is meticulously plotted, magnificently structured storytelling. An immersive read where we get to feel the anxiety of the couple we observe. One that acknowledges our thoughts, intangible, have as much power over us as anything concrete. What we read and what we believe and what we think is as much a part of being alive as the air we breathe, the people we know, the place each of us calls home.
Keeping Two is 2022’s second twenty-year graphic novel. Spring saw the release of Time Zone J, Julie Doucet’s first graphic novel in decades. Crane is another creator’s creator with a hand in forming the state of contemporary comics. Doucet and Crane are both telling intense, captivating stories. But Crane’s touch more resembles Ron Regé, gently sad and wholly mysterious. Ron and Jordan were both in Arthur Magazine on the other side of the two decades, when Keeping Two was starting out. It was something that Crane self-released installments of as zines. Pieces appeared with other short works of his in Uptight. He isn’t returning to comics, Crane’s been here all along, working on Keeping Two.
Keeping Two is experimental in its craft, but not in the way typically associated with the term. Crane’s take on the form is as a very traditional, multi-disciplinary work. Grid panels with a clear distinction between the experienced and the imagined. Keeping Two was serialized in black and white, but the collected Fantagraphics edition is in a wonderful offset printmaking aesthetic of monochrome greens. The color brings a clarity to what is and isn’t that Keeping Two‘s previous incarnations left more ambiguous. But Crane knows what he’s doing. The sure hand that pulls the ink on the screen is the same one that draws figures smooth, clean, and clear. The world is detailed and precise, stylized, concrete. Lay on a layer of stars, double the vision after a few drinks, or clear away the disarray for the things you’ll never forget.
Jordan Crane leaves the form familiar so that the reader can fall down the rabbit hole of the content. What you want the story to be is crucial to what it ultimately is. Lose track of where the line between before and after was drawn. You make it what you want to make it, like you were told, you have the power to save them once the story is over. Thank you. Alright.
Keeping Two is available now from Fantagraphics Books or wherever finer comics and books are sold.