The Guest House
68 pages, color mini-comic
by Jon Mastantuono
I've been a recipient of some of Mastantuono's poetry comics (he's also published under the pseudonym "Jon Drawdoer") in the past and while this comic shows hallmarks of those earlier efforts in its elliptical language and disjointed imagery the stronger narrative through-line made for a much more compelling read this time around.*
The title refers to the central metaphor of the comic. The unnamed protagonist** calls himself a guest house, a transitory space through which people and feelings move slickly. The first chapter sets up the metaphor, using symbolic imagery to explore the idea of welcoming negative emotions without judgement, including repressed feelings of childhood shame and alienation. The chapter ends with an event of personal violation. The question is posed: can we truly absorb and accept anything? Or are there limits?
The rest of the narrative focuses on the protagonist's relationship with a man, Trent, he meets in a support group. The relationship becomes a jumping-off point for a lyrical exploration of desire, history and identity. The relationship, if it can be called such, is short-lived and again ends in another violation—a theft, this time.
We can seek to be a guest house—open, accepting, unjudging—but can these emotions and experiences truly pass through and leave no mark?
Mastantuono's work is ambiguous and questioning and open and raw—a rare and potent combination—there is a deep, dark undertow to the comic that drew me in.
Visually, the comic is rendered in colored pencil (or rather, what looks to be a digitally-applied color hold to black pencils) with some additional textures applied in post. The protagonist's viewpoint is rendered in maroon, with the color switching to orange when the story changes to Trent's perspective. This smart and studied use of color, in addition to the clean and readable yet design-heavy artwork enhance the story—giving a poetic and metaphorical sheen to an already powerful personal narrative.
In summary, this is a great comic and y'all should buy it and read it.
*This is where I feel obligated to note that I have a strong preference for traditional narrative work so do keep that in mind, dear reader.
** The comic does seem to be autobiographical but I don't want to make the error of conflating the speaker with the author... what would my Literary Theory professor think?!