Grip

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Lale Westvind, Grip (Perfectly Acceptable Press, 2020). $30.

Lale Westvind’s Grip is a celebration of the power of the hand. Recently compiled into a single, offset printed volume from a previous two part risograph publication, Westvind’s wordless whirlwind of a comic celebrates work-power in a manner that circumvents or counteracts many of the negatives associated with labor. The work of Westvind’s nameless female protagonist is not celebrated as a means to capital, but as an embodied means to self-empowerment and autonomy through the development of confident ability. In engrossing, kaleidoscopic fashion, Westvind illustrates a story of a woman discovering the power of her hands to create and contribute, building from working as a waitress to constructing a motorcycle from raw materials to joining a legion of fellow female workers in a heavenly realm. 

In a sense, Grip could be considered a superhero comic, as its protagonist has supernatural abilities (manipulating earth, extracting metal, and shaping the environment) and affiliates herself with other powerful figures. However, Westvind consciously eschews any of the violence associated with the genre (as she mentions in an interview in Bubbles fanzine), while also firmly planting Grip in a different generic tradition through her use of style. Westvind is stylistically committed to depicting nonviolent motion and action. Most panels contain some sort of motion, drawn in a manner in which one can see the after-image and fore-image of the activity as a sort of visual echo. This vibrantly kinetic style and Westvind’s sweeping linework grants the comic a consistent thrum of productive activity. Combined with her usage of bright colors, each move of the hand and body emits a warm, psychedelic aura of force — a force that is not threatening, but enlivening. To put it simply, Westvind’s style is unmistakable, absorbing in its vibrancy and singular in its vision. Grip’s aesthetics function as a statement of independence — say, independence from other superheroic tropes or movements — that reflects the growing independence of its protagonist and small-press creator.

Grip shines not only through this integration of style and message but also in how these stylistic decisions encourage a multivalent mode of reading and appreciation. Westvind’s style is so foregrounded and so hypnotic that one may pause to appreciate the artwork on a page just as often as one might pause to reflect on its meaning. This mode of reading is only strengthened by the comics’ wordlessness, and by the vibrant opacity of Westvind’s style. Her whirls of motion dip into abstraction, forcing the reader to decode the graphic message in many of the panels — in a sense, engaging in labor of their own as they read. These two factors encourage an appreciation of the surface of Westvind’s art as well as its depths. I know I first picked up the book at Desert Island in Brooklyn because I was gripped by the style. Westvind’s art doesn’t only draw you into reading its narrative, it also draws you into an appreciation of its aesthetics — as a trippy and beautiful arrangement of marks, as well as an ode to the power of the sorts of hands that might make them.