By Rina Ayuyang
Sparkplug & Tugboat
Any writer will happily tell you that nothing sucks the mystery out of a product faster than a press release. They’re a necessary evil, of course—and really, the moment I wrote that word, I realized that “evil” was far too strong a term. Like the back of the book blurb—or any other summary for that matter—they serve (when successful) as something of a contextual lighthouse in sea of otherwise indistinguishable product.
But like the back of the book blurb, they are sometimes best avoided. Sometimes when seeking new experiences, be they life or art, the best thing to do is to just jump right in. Any sequential art fan with at least a moderately decent local comic shop can likely attest to having discovered more than a few a favorite books and authors by simply pulling a book off a shelf and cracking it open.
It’s a pleasure I seem to experience less and less often these days, as comic reading has become something of a second career. Sure there’s still an immense amount of joy to be derived in even those good books that are practically swimming in context, but it’s always much appreciated when a quality piece of work manages to enter my line of vision ahead of its backstory.
Sparkplug has largely done a good job producing books with exteriors devoid of contextual clues. Larger books produced by the publisher often offer little more on their front and back covers that a title and author name—a trait they share with their mini brethren. Whirlwind Wonderland is no exception, offering little more in the way of clues than a brightly color penciled suburban cityscape, bombarded by what appears to be an army of giant soap bubbles.
And inside, the book opens with a meditation—a quiet poem in the second-person, a journal entry spelling out the disillusioning effects of suburban tract housing. It’s a clue, really, a piece of context. So too is the next short story, “Acacia.” “I always thought I was from Pittsburgh,” reflects our narrator as a young girl attempting to come to grips with her own culture. “It’s to remind us of the Philippines, where we come from,” her mother answers when asked why the family’s home is littered with wood carvings.
There’s a story about a diner, a story about Steelers football, and a seeming aside about Murder She Wrote, nearly all drawn in a different style—and nearly all hinting at something larger, as it pertains to our author, Rina Ayuyang. The diner story is really about community. The football one is about relationships. The Murder She Wrote one is about pop cultural obsessions—actually, wait, on second thought, maybe that one’s just about Murder She Wrote.
Over the course of the collection, we gather more pieces about the author—all the while, she seems more and more willing to present a more and more honest and open picture of her life. The context, then, is born out of the text itself, and like any good collection of personal short stories, a conception of the author is eventually born. It’s ultimately impossible to decipher how accurate such a picture is without seeking out external context, of course. But perhaps such things are ultimately unimportant, at least as they pertain to the enjoyment of the piece.
What is important, ultimately, is what’s contained between the covers. In this case it’s a fun and funny collection of short stories demonstrating a surprising amount of artistic diversity. It’s certainly worth cracking open. Now may I offer my sincerest apologies for all of this intrusive context.