Review by Cefn Ridout
“I had a phase of craving the wild adventurous travel experience. Now I love the rhythm of the everyday.” In a rare instance of self-conscious analysis during a visit with her sister’s family in Belgium, Mandy Ord underscores the nature and appeal of her work. The account is one of several short graphic narratives in Sensitive Creatures, a collection of idiosyncratic, autobiographical vignettes from the prolific underground cartoonist that pulse with warmth, wit and unfailing candour.
A veteran of the vibrant Melbourne indie comics scene, Ord’s considerable body of short-run, self-published stories remains largely unseen. Until now, that is.
An acute, empathetic observer and inveterate storyteller, Ord’s random slices of inner city life find heart, humour and poetry in the most unlikely places. From minor domestic crises to unalloyed moments of joy and dread to flourishes of surreal wonder, Ord wears her passions and insecurities on her sleeve, gently seducing readers into her gloriously chaotic world. And though not every story in this collection hits the mark, they all leave an indelible impression.
Ord is not inclined to bare her soul, as is often the case with graphic memoirists whose use of comics as public therapy can quickly slide into tedious self regard. Filtered through the experiences of her cyclopean cartoon alter-ego, an endearingly fretful free spirit, Ord’s generally benign if beady eye looks out more than in, savouring the vagaries of life and the unexpected connections between people. She captures the music of the moment in a way that feels both spontaneous and self-reflexive, drawing us into the imaginative, liminal space between panels as much as what occurs within them.
While Ord’s bold expressionism may recall the roughly hewn power of woodblock prints, her approach is also indebted to photocopiers, comic book self-publishing’s lifeline even in the Internet age, where a thicker line enhances reproduction. And at times, her lush, vigorous brushwork, swathed in black ink, occasionally threatens to swamp her smart, playful storytelling, sound, quirky draughtsmanship and unerring sense of place.
It’s inevitable that this glossy production, collected by one of Australia’s leading book publishers Allen & Unwin, loses something of the pacing and handmade intimacy of Ord’s mini-comics, for which some of these stories were first created, but it also brings the artist’s harder-to-find material to a wider readership. Inspired by the work of cartoonists like Mary Fleener, Julie Doucet and Carol Tyler, who also draw deeply from their own lives, Ord has fashioned a distinctive, authentic voice in an increasingly crowded field.
A seemingly hard-wired fan of the comics medium, Ord has explained that: “The lines I draw are connected to how I’m thinking. It’s like the energy of your thoughts are immediately visual.” Ord’s “seeing hand”, in arts scholar Colin Eisler’s apt description, instinctively recreates the texture and immediacy of lived experience, full of strange beauty, antic incidents and tender anxieties, in a way that slips under our defences and sensitises the way we view the world.