Two local artists offer books with contrasting takes on the everyday | Book Reviews + Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

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Two local artists offer books with contrasting takes on the everyday

Reviews of John Peña’s Daily Geology and Christiane Dolores’ Tea With Dolores


Coping with the everyday can be no small feat. Two new publications, by local artists John Peña and Christiane Dolores, accept the challenge in idiosyncratic fashion.

Daily Geology is the second year’s-worth compilation of Peña’s long-running project to make a drawing recording a memorable moment from each day. Because it documents moments, the self-published collection of mostly single-panel comics ($25, feels more like a scrapbook than a journal: The instances covered include everything from life events (like moving in with his girlfriend) to quirky stuff his cat does.

Yet over the course of 12 months, and 365 charming drawings, you inevitably get a multifaceted portrait of Peña. He’s a thoughtful, rather neurotic fellow, on anxiety meds and prone to irritable-bowel syndrome. He teaches at Carnegie Mellon, makes art (like an installation at the Mattress Factory, and a Downtown bike rack) and works with a friend renovating houses. His girlfriend, Jess, is really patient. Peña loves dogs and cats — who supply no small part of this fat little book’s incidents — and watches a lot of movies (more horror and action than you might guess). He bike-commutes from and to his home in Wilkinsburg, so you’ll get a good recap of that year’s weather. And when he goes to visit family in Washington state, you might conclude that there’s no better way to recount a vacation than with daily panels.

Understandably, Peña doesn’t disclose every detail of his life; in fact, his frequent vague references to “meetings” he has to attend leave you wondering, “About what?” Nonetheless, what’s most remarkable about Daily Geology is Peña’s sheer willingness to acknowledge his own vulnerability. He quite frequently depicts himself depressed or weeping, and if you’re uncomfortable with intimate medical details, be forewarned. (Two words: “Birthday diarrhea!”)

For another tack on the everyday entirely, there’s Tea With Dolores, a pocket-sized, 60-page collection adapted from tweets by Christiane Dolores. It’s one tweet per page, with line-breaks that suggest poetry, in an artfully funky font designed by Rick Bach for Lascaux Editions. Bonus: a handful of edgy illustrations by Rashad Jamal. “Postblackness?!? We need some postwhiteness / dump thy privilege today / join the rest of the human race,” Dolores writes.

And indeed, there’s plenty of politics here — more overt commentary on current events on single pages than you’ll find in all of Daily Geology. “They asked what country / and I laughed / as I typed the United States / we couldn’t be more divided,” Dolores writes. Yet much of this “Self-Help Book for Bad Asses” ($10 on Amazon) comprises wise thoughts on love (“You don’t know who you will weep for until the tears flow”), friendship and family (“My Aunt had a closetful of wigs. I loved her no matter what she looked like”). Some entries approach a sort of haiku-like ideal of the tweet: “I never noticed the beauty / of the craggly tree / until / the crow cawed from it.”

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