Comic relief

A.L. Kaplan and Jake Nawbuntat

A.L. Kaplan and Jake Nawbuntat are comic book artists with work on display at the Holland Project's gallery.

A.L. Kaplan and Jake Nawbuntat are comic book artists with work on display at the Holland Project's gallery.

Photo/Brad Bynum

A.L. Kaplan's Water: Pictures, Words & Boxes and Jake Nawbuntat's Starmaps & Other Stories are at Holland Gallery, 140 Vesta St., through Nov. 7.

A.L. Kaplan and Jake Nawbuntat are comic book artists who like science fiction stories. Their artwork might seem similar at first, but second and third glances might reveal some intriguing differences: Kaplan’s work is stark and carefully composed, and Nawbuntat’s pages and panels are densely packed. The artists have complementary exhibitions at the Holland Gallery through Nov. 7. Kaplan’s portion of the gallery is carefully hung with vast seas of white gallery wall between panels—the way it’s hung resonates with the story’s deep sea setting. Nawbuntat’s portion of the gallery is densely, obsessively, overwhelmingly packed with images.

“Since they both do comic-based work, we thought it would be really cool to see these two shows together,” said Alisha Funkhouser, Holland’s Art & Gallery Director. “We thought there were interesting contrasts and parallels.”

Kaplan’s exhibition is titled Water: Pictures, Words & Boxes. The panels in the gallery are digital prints taken from pages 14 through 25 of the first chapter of Water, an ongoing online graphic novel. (It can be seen at It’s a story set at the bottom of the ocean, an environment just as foreign and frightening as deep space.

“It looks like outer space, but it’s completely different,” she said. “You’re not just boundless in this void with no gravity. You’re being completely pummeled, and it’s loud and so hostile. … It’s a neat environment to explore because it’s so close but so weird.”

She’s from Oregon, but lives in Reno and works as a designer for Custom Ink T-shirt company. She and Nawbuntat both grew up reading mainstream comics, Marvel Comics—Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Avengers and the like—and got into independently published comics later.

“It’s a medium all to itself," said Kaplan. "It’s not just words and pictures, it’s a melding of the two and it becomes its own language. It reads so differently than just prose or just pictures.”

She draws with pen and ink and adds digital colors. Her works in the gallery are all digital prints. Some panels stand out as individual compositions even without the larger narrative context.

“It changes the pacing, and allows you to really play with how the story is read,” she said.

Nawbuntat’s exhibition, Starmaps & Other Stories is packed with images—zine-style copies, some of which he hand-colored for the exhibition. (He has work for sale at the Mixed Message zine shop near Midtown.) His work includes a number of standalone panels and pages and three complete issues of a comic called The USO.

“It stands for the Unregistered Sex Offender,” he said. “It’s about a serial killing time lord. And it’s set in Reno.” The local band Registered Sex Offender is featured, and the Silver Legacy acts as a portal to another dimension.

Nawbuntat's exhibition also includes the prologue and first chapter of Starmaps, a comic series he says is inspired by manga, Japanese comics, specifically One Piece and Fist of the North Star.

“It’s about the future after a cyborg destroys the planet with a huge sword, and eugenic beings occupying planets out in space,” he said. “I have quite a few story arcs planned for it. This is going to be my life’s work, I guess. It all started in high school when I got this super stupid, juvenile image of a giant sword crushing the Earth. … It was probably because I hated school.”

Despite their mutual interests, Kaplan and Nawbuntat didn’t know each other before the Holland Project decided to link them together.

“In science fiction, usually the antagonistic force in a story is an ideology,” said Kaplan. “That’s much more interesting than ’this guy is evil.’ I don’t like that. I don’t like that plot and I don’t see that reflected in the world, but I see battling ideologies heavily reflected in the world. So it’s a fun story form.”