We’re nearing the end of summer, which means SPX is only a few weeks away. I’m working through books that I received early Spring, which, dear reader, is only going to get worse when I haul home all the books I know I’ll eventually buy at SPX. Emi Gennis sent over a copy of her new book BASELINE BLVD earlier this year, and I’ve been mulling it over for a while now. The book is 64 pages of black and white comics, and follows Gennis on a solitary car ride to a snow-covered cemetery, while concurrently detailing the history of the relationship that is at the root of the drive.
The majority of BASELINE BLVD is flooded by a sense of quietness; Gennis’ observations in an unfamiliar rural space show fields and silos, crunching snow, cows, and horses. Gennis is driving, so we see train tracks and small backwater rural towns. These quietly observed moments are punctuated by dark memories of an abusive relationship. The abusive man is never given a face, only a dark silhouette; his violence and his manipulation interrupt the snowy white landscape of Gennis’ drive with dark, overwhelming panels.
That juxtaposition is compelling, and one of a few other formal techniques that Gennis uses to express a sense of helplessness and anger; panels shatter as promises and relationships shatter, and landscapes roll up into themselves and turn into tears. There is a sense of this relationship in its death-rattle. Its end, with her abusers’ suicide, is just as shattering.
It’s clear too that BASELINE BLVD is a comic not just of the memory of the relationship, but Gennis coming to terms with both mourning and the guilt of mourning, the anger, and perhaps the fear and the feeling of culpability in her abuser’s death. We can tell that there’s been a progression of time between the flashbacks and the drive (Gennis’ hair style and glasses have changed). But it’s clear that time doesn’t heal all wounds. In that sense, the ending of the book strikes a perfect angry balance between a person coming to terms with the past and a person still emotionally affected by it.
With BASELINE BLVD, Gennis has created a compelling piece of autobiography that makes feeling its unease as easy as turning the page. It’s a figurative punch in the gut. Recommended.
Emi Gennis is a cartoonist and illustrator, and is an assistant professor in the Pittsburg State University Department of Art. Gennis’ cartoon work has been collected in The Nib’s EatMore Comics. You can find more of Gennis’ work here.
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