Book Review: The Ghosts We Know

ghosts we know
The Ghosts We Know
, Sean Karemaker, 160 pages, Conundrum Press, www.conundrumpress.com, $20

An impressive debut from Vancouver-based artist Sean Karemaker, The Ghosts We Know is an assemblage of autobiographical illustrations, comic vignettes and segmented scroll paintings. Ghosts reappear throughout the shifting, anthropomorphic landscapes in the form of familiar faces, memories and motifs, tying together the artist’s childhood and adult life. Karemaker appears in many ways as a ghost himself in these stories, wandering quietly amongst the forests around Chemainus and the manic urban maze of Vancouver, finding company amongst the misfits, hermits and homeless. Throughout the book there is a sustained interest in these cultural outliers and their own subtle yet significant contributions to their communities. In certain images these figures literally meld with and recreate their surroundings, demonstrating a synthesis between subject and environment. 

While I thoroughly enjoyed many of the short stories, others seemed to end abruptly, leaving me surprised and wanting more once I turned the page. Despite Karemaker’s quiet and understated narrative voice, the book in its entirety can sometimes seem like it’s being delivered at breakneck speed, with little empty space on the page to give readers a chance to catch their breath. While the 16 colour pages in the middle of the book are absolutely stunning, the black and white content often seems grey and muddy in comparison, presumably painted in colour and converted later. Minor criticisms aside, The Ghosts We Know is a solid introduction to Karemaker’s considerable talent, and one that will hopefully spawn further efforts. (Ben O’Neil)

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