It’s usually a slight to argue that an artist “hasn’t found their voice yet”; in the case of the restlessly versatile Jillian Tamaki, it’s an endorsement. BOUNDLESS (Drawn & Quarterly, paper, $24.95) collects short stories that are so far apart from one another in tone and technique that they could almost pass for the work of entirely different artists. Some of them are less narratives than brief, illustrated prose poems.
If Tamaki (the illustrator of the Book Review’s By the Book feature) has a favorite storytelling strategy, it seems to be dreaming up some kind of odd artifact of mass culture and then examining the way people react to it. “Body Pods” concerns a cult movie adored by some of the narrator’s friends, and their reactions as its stars begin to die. “Darla!” is an oral history of a (nonexistent) short-lived pornographic sitcom from the ’90s. (“It was a different time,” the narrator deadpans. “You could never make something like it now.”) And the Borgesian “1. Jenny” begins by imagining a “mirror Facebook” whose users’ profiles begin to diverge from their real-world counterparts,’ and goes on to follow one woman’s obsession with her alternate self’s love life.
The book’s highlight, “SexCoven,” is a showcase for Tamaki’s mercurial style. Nominally, it concerns a mysterious six-hour-long audio file with druglike properties and the communities that successively accrued around it in the early 2000s. The story starts off like a documentary whose narrator is looking back on the phenomenon, but in the course of its 30 pages, it drifts through a sex scene, a psychedelic depiction of a SexCoven trip, “screenshots” of a digital video and more, with each sequence presented in a different visual idiom. The task of culture is to connect people in the world, Tamaki suggests, but the kinds of connections it creates are weirder than anyone could guess.