Red Eye, Black Eye
Written and Drawn by K. Thor Jensen
Alternative Comics, 2007
By Miles Baker
“A joyously bleak handbook for the post-9/11 generation.”
— Rodney Anonymous (The Dead Milkmen) excerpted review from publisher’s website.
When I was looking up other reviews of Red Eye, Black Eye several critics complimented it as a great example of post 9/11 literature. True, there is a panel of the twin towers burning, but I don’t think that’s what Jensen was going for. I think 9/11 may be one reason that Jensen sets out on his road trip, but losing his job, his house or his girlfriend are reasons just as important. His proximity to the horrific events aren’t what give this story credibility, it’s Jensen’s ability to capture moments of kindness, frustration, and humour in a human way.
Red Eye, Black Eye is an autobiographical account of Jensen’s one-man road trip starting from New York at the end of September 2001 and ending 60 days later back in New York, having traveled 10,000 miles. On his trip across the country Jensen stays with various friends, the majority of whom he’s only met over the internet and never in real life. In that way the book is almost a testament to the kindness of strangers: city after city people drink, laugh and tell Jensen stories.
One thing I appreciate about Red Eye, Black Eye is that we never really see Jenson drawing or sketching the story. In too many autobiographical works, the act of cartooning is an overriding current in the story. However, while this isn’t self-congratulatory cartooning, I do wish that Jensen had been a little less forceful towards the end when he starts looking harder and harder for some meaning in it all. Even though I imagine that on the final legs of his journey he did really keep asking the questions “What have I learned from this?” and “Why am I going back at all?” he ends up pushing a little too hard into post-modern autobiography territory.
I can look over this quibble, however, because I enjoy the final message, or at least my interpretation of it. Also the little moments are what really make my day when reading this book (like his jokes about being a hobo). I love Jensen’s frustrations with long-distance banking — the emotional highs and lows that can be caused because of your bank statement. I like that he basically drinks his way through the first half of the book, only to be much more sober for the last half, though I imagine that was partly due to lack of funds (we’ve all been there).
Jensen’s visual style is simple but effective. The characters all look very charming and his style allows for a lot of expression. His women do start to look the same after a while. But given the incredible amount of characters, he can’t be faulted. And honestly, white people all look the same anyway.