Ten Thousand Things To Do #1-4
by Jesse Reklaw
Reading Jesse Reklaw’s Ten Thousand Things To Do can be a little overwhelming for someone with enough things to do already. The guy keeps himself seriously busy, and it makes for a pretty tense, dense personal narrative.
Reklaw’s art and lettering are undeniably beautiful though, so that’s nice to see under any pretense. It’s also interesting just to learn more about someone whose work you appreciate. So if you ever looked at Reklaw’s life from the outside and wonderd, ‘How does he do it? The Kukoc fund raising, the event coordinating, the weekly Slow Wave, the Ignatz-winning Blue Fuzz, the veganism, the music-making, etc?’
Well, this is how.
Reklaw will only continue writing the series for a calendar year, so by the end of September 2009, Ten Thousand Things To Do will be finished. Then you can collect the whole set and spend a week (or two) reading it from start to finish.
What I can see from the first four issues is that this series tells the story of a man so obsessed with his hobbies that he has become totally inseparable from them. When he feels a strong emotion, instead of working through it pensively like most comic diarists do, he works through it mechanically: hitting drumsets, playing out video game battles, drinking alcohol, watching some smart film, obsessively editing, and always moving.
It’s a little weird because at no point do I see this diary strip becoming a real diary. It’s more a list of events and activities, which isn’t what diaries are. To Lewis and Clark, sure, but today’s diary is a more personal object, where the author can think through and document some of his own frustration and responses, and say things that might challenge the model of what’s fit-for-print. From Reklaw, the comic diary feels like another daily task, inseparable from other “work” he has amassed for himself. And because it’s just another box to tic off on the greater list of stuff to do, he doesn’t take time to build the kind of relationship with the diary that inspires intimate, thoughtful or revealing subject matter.
I’m reminded of a video I saw about Web 2.0 media and how through youtube video-style blogging people begin to get confessional and take a look at themselves from the outside for the first time, and through that new view become more compassionate and empathetic toward others. I think this same phenomenon applies to people who write diary comics. An intimate, honest look at yourself can be really therapeutic and constructive. So when you boil down your life to four panels a day, habits emerge, and the mind often creatively wanders to other parts of life, exploring those small things that make the whole of monotony so tolerable, which in turn makes quirks and habits of others more understandable and less hateful.
However, I think this diary and its lack of little things really points to how different the life of a person with an overly-busy schedule can be. The compassion built up by self-interested people when they recognize little non-self things manifests itself differently in a person who is self-driven. Self-gratification comes not from surrounding yourself with lovely things, it’s inspired by little accomplishments and milestones. To live like that is exhausting, rigorous, demanding and solitary. It’s also something that is definitely new to me in the realm of diary strips, simply because people with purpose rarely take the time to do this kind of thing. I’m sure if Reklaw hadn’t begun this series as a vehicle to help promote another project, it would never have happened.
For all of these reasons, I think it’s a must-read for anyone who is really interested in the personal comics genre. Admittedly, appreciating Reklaw’s Ten Thousand Things To Do will be a challenge, but when you think through the reasons why, it’s a great means to a conversation about diary comics and their tropes. It’s probably good that someone is doing unusual things within the genre. It promotes growth, or at least a discussion.
In a quick google search of the book’s title, I learned something pretty interesting. “Ten thousand things to do” is a way of saying, in Buddhist terms, “all the things in the universe” and it’s referred to in teaching as the distraction that people must look away from, so that they can find enlightenment. So if anything is keeping Reklaw from the zen state that might force him to look outside his work and relax, it’s that damn checklist. What an apt title for the book’s subject.
Issues #1-4 of Ten Thousand Things To Do are available for $4 each through Microcosm Publishing. They are 64 pages each, with a slick color cover and black and white interiors, trimmed 4.35″x5.5″ – the ideal size for your pocket.
– Sarah Morean