Wondering Why — Or Wondering What? Nathan Ward’s “More Pain”

I’m not sure if Nathan Ward has been touched by some greater, cosmic force beyond our comprehension or has simply discovered an ability to tap into it, but whatever the case may be his triptych of 2019 self-published minis entitled More Pain offers further proof that this guy is operating on an entirely different dimensional wavelength than the rest of us. There are any number of cartoonists out there whose work can be described as “unlike anything else,” but Ward ups the ante : his work is unlike anything else that anyone could ever conceive of.

Which, as far as compliments go, is admittedly about as high as they come, and while looking at these may have reminded me of times in my youth when I was about “as high as they come” myself, in truth even the most intense acid trip imaginable has some ground to make up if it wants to get to where Ward is. The intricacy of his multi-layered vistas, dense with visual information rendered in the most exacting detail the human mind and hand are likely capable of, is situated on the next level above “next-level stuff,” and who knows? We may even need to infer the existence of a level above that one, because all frames of reference are just plain out the window here.

So, yes, the three issues (to date, at any rate) of this series rank among the coolest mini-comics I’ve ever seen in my life —- but the one note of caution (for lack of a better term) I’d sound is that they don’t make a whole lot of sense. That’s not a knock on them by any means — the idea that a work of art needs to be processed intellectually to have merit is hopelessly limiting — but more a statement of fact. And it’s also perfectly factual to state that they’re not supposed to make any sense.

By juxtaposing minimalist, interpretive text alongside images that would seemingly bear no immediate relation to it (and, I suppose, vice-versa), Ward is inviting you to divine your own meanings from his work, and I don’t use the plural by accident : every single page here offers a universe of possibilities, and that already-expansive metaphorical playing field opens up even further in the third issue, when he adds full color and multi-media elements into the mix. That same issue’s back cover states “Make Them Wonder Why,” but as the title of this review alludes to, you’d probably do well to decide what he’s doing first, before picking at the bones of his reasoning.

Assuming, of course, that there is any — it could very well be that Ward was simply on a kind of creative “auto-pilot” when he made these, with his subconscious in full control of his artistic process. It certainly looks that way from where I’m sitting, but I freely admit that I could be entirely wrong about that. I’m also not sure that it particularly matters either way — whether by accident or design, the heady and inherently contradictory admixture of Ward’s thematic and tonal randomness with his technical exactitude makes for a singular experience, and at the end of the day that’s what’s truly important.
I don’t know about you, but every now and then I like to be, as Grant Morrison once said in reference to the work of Jack Kirby, “mugged by the word of God.” These are my new “go-to comics” whenever I find myself in such a mood.

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More Pain #s 1-3 are available for $4.00 each from John Porcellino’s Spit And A Half distro at https://www.spitandahalf.com/

Review wrist check – Traska “Freediver” mint green dial/black ceramic bezel model on bracelet.