There is imagination, the raw unformed stuff between the ears. And there is interpretation, the ability to condense the things we see and put it on the page. An artist does these things as a matter of course. They take the raw chaos and make it into something real, something tangible. There’s a lot of fiddly bits in between the chaos and the tangible, but that’s basically it.
This exercise of creation is not such a rare thing. Or, at least not as rare as we might want to believe it is. Most often it is couched within terms we know, boundaries we understand, rules and forms that comfort. Comfort allows us to see what the artist sees, to appreciate their interpretation. Most. Not all. Sometimes the exercise of art shatters the confines of the expected. It exposes us to that imagining, but also forces us to interpret it for ourselves. I would argue that’s more powerful. Such it is with Notes from the Shadowed City, a book of illustration and prose pulled from the mind of Jeffrey Alan Love.
A young man is lost in a strange place, unable to remember how he got there or why. All he has is his journal on magical swords. In an unfamiliar city, shadowed by a floating citadel above, he continues his chronicle, all the while trying to remember who he is what he’s about. The city is rife with swordsmen, both human and otherwise, and he has much to record. All the while he dreams of going home.
Rendered in shapes and colors and words that discomfort, Shadowed City demonstrates what storytelling can be. It can use liminal and negative space. It leaves room for the viewer to fill in those blanks. It need not be explicit. This is the power of Love’s art and, now, his prose. It offers the shape of a story, with trailheads and sign posts, and implores us to find it, just as the young man in the book searches for a way home.
His art, well known now to many, has always been as much about what he chooses to put on the canvas as what he doesn’t. Whether he’s painting the Hound from George R.R. Martin’s the Song of Ice and Fire or Batman, Love chooses the right details to bring out the essential elements that make them what they are. In the case of the Hound, it’s his hulking shoulders and scarred face (did you also notice the different shaded circle in his chest?). For Batman its the looming darkness, shadowing the vulnerable Boy Wonder. But, in the case of both Love leaves so much room for the viewer to find their own details.
This is a through line he’s carried through to Notes from the Shadowed City. It is a book that writers and artists will read and experience and come away with their own stories, inspired by some detail they see in the gap between Love’s lines and letters. This has always been the way for Love. His art is a story all its own. Often using only two colors–white and black–with an occasional splash of red, he manages to capture a breathtaking amount of depth.
And he has deeper depths to explore still. There is so much strangeness here in his first book. So much space. Supposedly Love is working on a novel. A young man can hope there might be more to tell about these Notes from the Shadowed City.
Notes from the Shadowed City is available from Flesk Publications.
Justin Landon used to run Staffer’s Book Review. Now he kinda blogs at justlandon.com. Find him on Twitter for meanderings on science fiction and fantasy, and to argue with him about whatever you just read.