Rhymes and Rhythms: Circulating Drafts / by Spandexless

by Anthony Rosen

Hey look, comics and poetry, together at last!

Wait! Don’t run away just yet, I promise Circulating Drafts isn’t as boring or dull as the poetry your High School English teacher read to you.

Well alright, maybe it’s a little boring.  But I feel like Circulating Drafts has enough going for it that I can recommend you at least go check out Alex Rothman’s website, where’s he’s posted most of the pieces collected in Circulating Drafts, free of cost.  Each one is a meditation on a particular topic, discussing Rothman’s thoughts through the combination of verse and pictures.  All of them are certainly thought provoking and it seems like Rothman has got a good grasp on what he wants to say with these pieces, I just don’t think he’s got a good grip on how he wants to say it.

While the execution feels weak, Rothman is toying with fascinating potential here.  Combining poetry and comic books into what he terms “sequential verse”, he utilizes the implied imagery and conversational tone of poems that feel like internal monologues, and contrasts them with images from his daily life, nature, and current events.  While it is true this isn’t the first time these two mediums have been brought together, the question remains whether or not his finished product is a compelling enough reason for the continued exploration of this experiment.

My answer to that question? Sort of.

I should mention Circulating Drafts is not a long work.  In fact, in the time it takes to read this review you could make it through the website’s entire archive.  I’m also of the opinion that, if nothing else, Rothman is doing something out of the ordinary here and that it’s worth your time to at least go check out one of his pieces (Circulating Drafts collects four of them, but his website offers a larger sampling).  His pieces play with underdeveloped aspects of both mediums, and through them he’s exploring some compelling ideas.

Poetry often evokes a sense of movement through moments in wordplay and juxtaposition, much in the same way that comics use the movement from panel to panel to depict and play with the progression of narrative and time. Rothman has realized the similarities and compatibility of the two, and attempts to synthesize the natural rhythms of both into something new and unusual.

There are interesting moments in the comic that take advantage of those rhythms, but Rothman seems like he’s still looking for the limits of this medium, and his exploration missteps at times.  He communicates effectively with his figures and imagery, but there are times when his poses feel a little awkward or misjudged.  He has a sketchy style that feels like it was plucked straight from his notebook, and that sketchiness becomes both a strength and weakness.  Sometimes it feels like your inches away from Rothman’s imagination, watching ideas form right in front of you.  Other times, a panel feels underdeveloped or the art feels unfinished.  It’s an uneven balance, but when it works it works quite well.  That’s mostly due to the excellent composition and layout of Rothman’s pages.  Throughout the pieces he develops noteworthy moments and smartly draws the eye towards standout images along the movements of the page.  The poetry is placed strategically, and strengthens the work as a whole.

While Rothman is no great master of his craft, he certainly displays a knack for thought provoking prose.  If I wasn’t thoroughly impressed with the artwork, I was intrigued by the questions posed by the poetry itself.    Circulating Drafts feels like a well of untapped potential, as if the work is a blueprint for what’s to come.  It establishes the basics of combining poetry and comics, and how Rothman will take advantage of the two.  You can certainly see the edges of something interesting emerging here, but by no means is Circulating Drafts a genre defining piece of art.  However, there’s more then enough reasons for you to check it out.  The pieces are short, they move swiftly from page to page, and they are all (Except for the one story only available in the print edition) available for free online.

If you dig experimental comics, and especially if you want to see new ideas like this springing up in comic books, I highly recommend you purchase Circulating Drafts.  Yes, it’s not an entirely original idea and it’s not without its own set of flaws, but the fact that there is very little work like this out there right now is reason enough for me to excuse that.

TL; DR Circulating Drafts combines poetry and comics into something that doesn’t feel fully fleshed out, but at the very least promises that Alex Rothman is developing something fascinating.

Circulating Drafts is a self-published work, written and illustrated by Alexander Rothman. You can read most of his poetry comics on his website.

A review copy of Circulating Drafts was graciously provided to Spandexless by the author.

Anthony Rosen prides himself on two things: his beard and his comic book collection.  He once ate a tablespoon of nutmeg on some bad advice from a friend.  He hasn’t been the same since.