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CAREFUL OBSERVATION is part of Crenshaw’s work.

The remaining artists struggle with the balance between words and pictures. Bostonian Ellen Crenshaw's stories are thin, but in a soap opera-y comic about a romance in Boston breaking up, her drawing is rooted in careful observation of reality, though boiled down. And she's sharply attuned to what her brush can do — drawing flowing calligraphic lines and paying attention to the sort of marks brushes favor and leaning toward them.

Emily Flake of New York contributes a wisecracking, cynical take on pregnancy. But her comic relies too heavily on words. And her sort of naïve drawings, which can seem personal and endearing, here feel unaccomplished. New Yorker Bishakh Som's watercolor and pen comics portray a couple of friends going out for food and drink or give us glimpses into the mundanities of a futuristic city. The imagined world looks fascinating, but the stories (at least the parts here) don't develop.

"The way that comics look are extremely conservative," Stevens told the Los Angeles Times in 2011 when his book The Lodger, featuring stories here, was nominated for the paper's Book Prize. "They haven't really changed since they've been around a hundred years or so. They're just, by and large, really abstracted, iconic visual pantomimes."

This show, in part, represents Stevens's argument in rejection of the expressive cartooniness showcased in "X-TRA ZEUS!," the style that runs strong in Providence. The comics here are more subdued and introspective in pursuit of greater naturalism, even when the stories themselves bend toward the pulpy or surreal.

Read Greg Cook's blog at  gregcookland.com/journal.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Rhode Island College, Emily Flake, Bannister Gallery
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