Monday, October 18, 2010

Market Day: A Graphically Speaking Review

Words: Igor Glushkin

Market Day takes place in a Jewish shtetle in Eastern Europe of time past. Written and illustrated by James Sturm, Market Day is a terrific read that leaves us with a quiet thought and a powerful impression about how a man must confront the changing times in order to survive with the possibility of hope.

We meet Mendleman, a Jewish rug maker who is dreading his trip to the market to sell his wares. For the first time he must go without his wife, Rachel, who is currently pregnant, to sell his eight hand-crafted rugs.

Burdened with life’s responsibilities, Mendleman is personally affected by everything that occurs in his life. From the stench of the streets to his uncomfortable full bladder and his heel that chafes against the back of his foot, he dwells on the idea that if he dies, his wife would have to succumb to labor all her life and raise the child on her own. Focusing on these dreadful thoughts he begins to count his footsteps to ease his anxiety. This is a man who is trying to balance his passion for his workmanship with the need to provide for his wife and his unborn child. This is a man in a transitional stage of his life contemplating becoming a father and struggling to keep his artisan craft alive.

Even though he is filled with anxiety, he is also a man who is very proud of his professional craft as a rug maker.

There is a scene when Mendleman witnesses the beginning of a sunrise separating earth from the sky. “I immediately try to think of how I could reflect this moment in a rug. A small streak of color slicing through a large block of grey.” What he observes, he immediately converts and creates visual patterns into what he can accomplish as an artist with the medium he uses- rugs.

These inner monologues, along with James Sturm’s illustrations are glimpses of Mendleman’s creative thinking about how passionate he is about his craft. The abstract shapes and muted tones of color are nice segments where you can see how his mind draws images from everyday life and expresses it through his rug making. Mendleman’s imagination takes over and images begin to look less realistic and more like color shapes.
We follow Mendleman to the market where he heads over to Albert Finkler’s shop, which is now under new management. The new owner lacks any recognition for fine crafted rug making and no longer wishes to purchase any more merchandise. With the absence of Finkler’s appreciation for Mendleman’s hard work, he is forced to evaluate his worth and begins to feel defeated and loses hope in any possible future that would allow him to succeed. “If Finkler bought your goods, you knew you were good.”

On a deep personal level, Mendleman is emotionally invested in his work. Always concentrating on his environment to capture the perfect colors or patterns for his rugs. “…  The glorious bustle of market day”. “How would this all come together as a single rug?” Here, Sturm’s illustrations are very moving as a reflection Mendleman’s state of creativity.

Putting his sulking mind at rest, he heads to find a different buyer at another market before he falls into further despair. Other shops are stocked with low quality, cheaper products including rugs. This leaves Mendleman feeling unappreciated by society’s need for quick, cheap goods. Painstaking craft seems to have been replaced by replicated merchandise. Possibly Mendleman feels the world has no room for him or his finely made rugs.

This story relates to our day and age of mass consumerism. Conglomerate corporations like Wal-Mart offer quantity over quality. Can artists prosper in today’s rapidly growing economic and social environment? With a faster pace of life, we consume what we don’t need with the loss of fine craftsmanship. Where once he was proud to sell his goods, he is now desperate to find a buyer on the cheap side.

Once muted and gloomy when he sulked, backgrounds are now brighter with the change in Mendleman's optimism.
Sturm, I believe achieves a kind of narrative with his color palette. Brighter colored panels personify Mendleman when he is gleaming with life upon a sale, as opposed to when shop owners refuse to purchase any and Mendleman is weighed down with his unsold goods. The color palate changes with the ups and downs of Mendleman’s success and failure. Like Mendleman, we are all affected by outside influences.
There is a scene when brighter colors emerge in the illustrations when Mendleman is either feeling creative or he stumbles upon life in the market where children are laughing, food is being sold, or he is hopeful of selling his merchandise. Sometimes James Sturm’s pattern of Mendleman’s imagination resembles Mark Rothko’s paintings- abstract expressionistic and minimal.

Although Mendleman has sold his rugs for less then what they are worth, along with his means of transportation, he still believes there is hope for his craft yet. There is a dissatisfying end where not much is resolved when he finally returns back to his wife and home, but there is a glimpse of what might be for his future.

“I will pledge my allegiance, do what is required and pray I do not turn traitor.”

The image on the last page is very appropriate of his struggles that he goes throughout the story. There is a strong contrast illustrating Mendleman’s home with earthy tones set against the backdrop of the colorful blue sky.

The story leaves us with the thought that maybe Mendleman will not give up his passion for fine art. We can only speculate and hope that he succeeds.

Igor Glushkin has been drawing since he was a child. With a Bachelors of Fine art, he has worked as an art director for various publications and advertising companies. Currently working as a freelance graphic designer, he has recently returned to his roots as an illustrator and his love for comic books. Igor is collaborating on a creator owned soon -to-be published comic book called Isolation.
He currently resides in both Columbus, OH and NYC with his wife and his collection of vinyl toys.