Trying Not To Notice is one of the final books to come out of 2dcloud’s Spring Collection and my first encounter with cartoonist and illustrator Will Dinski in long form. I read An Honest Performance in 2015, which was noticeable for its strong line and a sense that marks on the page were more instinctual than placed. Now Dinski is back with a 196-page graphic novel that tells the story of a comedian named John Sirleaf and his rise to fame and fortune through the stories of the people in his immediate orbit.
Dinski sets up a series of interconnected short stories in the same way: First, a statement of opinion, likely John Sirleaf’s gut reaction or positive spin on his experience with them; second, the character’s story, which generally contradicts or at least complicates John’s original statement. In the first of these stories, John notes that “my friend Kyle has got it all
figured out.” But the truth, shown over multiple pages, shows a man without much future, a listless alcoholic who uses his stand-up comedy as a way to try to find a date. His self-loathing, his dour outlook, his reliance on
self-help/dating books – he’s certainly not a man who has got it all figured
out. We see this pattern play out with John’s co-worker Summer, his wife,
Amanda, and finally himself.
From what I can tell, Dinski’s style has significantly changed from his debut graphic novel Finger Prints, which was published in 2010 by Top Shelf. The art is looser, more focused on expression via line making. I found the style fascinating. Characters shudder and writhe on the page, fold in on themselves, fall out of and come back into focus. Dinski uses parallel lines and stippling to generate various tones, and I see those lines moving in very intentional ways. Dinski’s cartooning also has some formally inventive touches; one character, a movie producer who can only remember people through the use of a headshot photo, doesn’t have a face.
Each of the characters featured in the comic has their own darkness, but Dinski takes a portion of the book to speak very directly about the dangers of the current information hoarding tech megacorps (think Google, Amazon, etc.). People give up their personal information, their desires, their purchasing habits so quickly and so easily, and manipulation of that information, or its use for nefarious ends, is the major hook of Amanda’s
story. In this case, it’s one person with access making one bad choice – but Dinski seems to be warning about the potential for these sorts of choices to be automated or generated in an extrajudicial way. Amanda’s story stands out in Trying Not To Notice because of how ominous it seems in comparison to the others in the book.
I wonder about the way Dinski frames the entire story. The title of the book is “Trying Not To Notice” but it feels that “Oblivious” might be a better fit. Does Dinski, by titling the book in this way, convict his main character of looking the other way? Is John Sirleaf not seeing the truth, or is he seeing it and pretending it doesn’t exist? If Dinksi is to be believed, then it’s the latter, and that further complicates the story and its characters. Or perhaps it’s just that oblivion of this kind of magnitude takes some kind of foundational effort.
In Trying Not To Notice, Dinski has created a comic that explores the fundamental brokenness of people and the whitewash surfaces we paint over them. In hoping for the most uncomplicated, positive version of our friends and acquaintances, we cover their more complicated, more human selves. And if we work hard enough, we can even delude ourselves about the nature of our own lives. Trying Not To Notice is a comic worth mulling over.
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