Jordan Crane’s graphic novel Keeping Two, which took him 20 years to complete, pays very strict attention to form. Over the course of 300-plus pages, Crane rarely strays from a simple six-panel grid, arranging the action in neat squares that move down and across the page with an almost mesmeric energy and speed. With this structure, a rhythm builds, as does an understanding between cartoonist and reader, so that when Crane begins to blur the lines between past and present, reality and memory, truth and imagination, you lean forward and hold on for one of the most memorable comics-driven rides of the year.
Keeping Two follows a couple in the midst of what seems to be a minor argument, driven in part by a book the pair read aloud to each other during a long car trip. This book-within-the-book is about a couple coping with a profound loss, and the story’s themes of heartbreak and recovery immediately impact the lives of the couple reading it. They begin to imagine tragedies unfolding in their own reality, tragedies that may turn out to be all too close.
Crane uses vibrant, hypnotic color, with bright greens suggesting life, growth and rebirth but also illness, nausea and unease. As the story swings between these two tonal poles, Crane’s intense focus on form and composition allows him to transition seamlessly between perspectives, often within the space of a single panel. The boyfriend’s household chore becomes his girlfriend’s reading life, becomes the life of the story she’s paging through and then back again—and the reader is never lost in these shifts. It all feels like part of an ever-fluctuating meditation on life, loss, love and all the states of uncertainty, panic and longing in between.
Beautifully realized and assembled, Keeping Two is a remarkable work and one of the year’s best graphic novels.