Intelligent Sentient? 64 page full color hardcover published by Drawn And Quarterly 2015
Includes art by Jon Boam, Emannuel Romeuf, Jesse Jacobs, EKTA , Andy Rementer, Tommi Musturi, Michael DeForge, Miss Lotion, REMED and Finlay Pogue
“I’ve got to tell you, I had a real mind-warping moment with Intelligent Sentient? I can’t think of too many (non-chemically-assisted) art immersions that have altered my consciousness more than Intelligent Sentient?. In 64 pages, artist and commercial illustrator, Luke Ramsey, and a group of collaborators (including Finlay Pogue, Jesse Jacobs, Emmanuel Romeuf) create a bizarre alternative world that is as alien as it is familiar. And it is this ability to rapidly oscillate between the known and the unknown, the real and the imagined, that makes Intelligent Sentient? so effectively psychoactive. The colors in this book are amazing, as is the print quality and the hallucinogenic intensity of the imagery. There is only the suggestion of a narrative and certain visual themes that worm their way throughout the piece. The effect is that the visual narrative seems to be constantly, frantically pointing to things that, when you strain to resolve them, don’t actually appear to be there. I found the resulting effect to be very disorienting and trippy. When’s the last time your consciousness got altered just by looking at a book?”
– Gareth Branwyn, Boing Boing/ Wink Books
“I’ll admit it – I’d turn to pages in this book and hear myself gasp and/or utter ”Jesus…” in response to the level of complexity and the layering in the linework in this art comic. I say art comic because it is the juxtaposition of images that create a narrative here – and you’ll find yourself going back and rereading this book over and over to suss out the details of that narrative as well as to revisit the absolutely stunning artwork. This book is simply amazing.”
– Benn Ray, Atomic Books, Baltimore
“My friends at Drawn and Quarterly sent over an advance copy of Luke Ramsey’s new book Intelligent Sentient? and is a quiet masterpiece. There are so many layers to the book, which is textless aside from a brief foreword. To me, the book is about questioning the relationship between everything around us, and inside us, and the very idea of us.”
– Jeff Hamada, Booooooom!
“The new Luke Ramsey book is amazeballs”
– Desert Island Comics, Brooklyn, NYC
” A series of absolutely amazing, detailed and painstaking pages with no words that tell a story in sequence — I think. Damned if I can figure out the plot, but there are unifying themes, strange recurring characters and odd patterns in this brilliant, heady portable art installation from Ramsey.”
– Richard Pachter, Miami Herald
“Intelligent Sentient? rewards the time spent paging through it, and its strangely oracular character makes a fine addition to the comics published so far this year.”
– Hilary Brown, Paste Magazine
“I have never knowingly seen Luke Ramsey’s work before, but it teems with intensely psychedelic dystopian imagery and existential dread. Ramsey is a pop sci-fi De Chirico, this book is worth looking at.”
– Last Gasp Books
“Intelligent Sentient? is an enthralling book. It demonstrates the unique power of illustration to create a universe of imaginative wonder while also nailing some unpleasant real-world truths. It might not be one for the Comics 101 student in your life, but it’s a volume that richly rewards the attention you lavish upon it.”
– Tom Murphy, Broken Frontier
“For a journey into even stranger territory — perhaps the strangest, most alien territory you can visit through comic books at the moment — you might want to try Luke Ramsey’s Intelligent Sentient?”
– J. Caleb Mozzocco, Comic Book Resources
“Luke Ramsey is the first creator I’ve met who can pack more into one page than Sergio Aragones. His complex, intricate, interlocking illustrations and comics are a must-see and definitely cross the border between comics and art.”
– Rob McMonigal, Panel Patter
“The world building in this debut graphic novel is organized only by loose themes, but Ramsey (and a few collaborators, including Michael DeForge) brings it all to life in incredible detail, challenging readers to study the interlocking nature of the art in this comic. Ramsey packs a superhuman level of intricacy into each page, exploring a science fiction setting. Opening with images of birth, the comic builds to a city filled with life, including humanoid trees and gigantic figures that interact in surreal ways. Larger shapes, like faces and planets, are composed of smaller elements, inviting the reader to discover them all. Snake-like squiggly lines shape into patterns in the manner of Escher, and further humanoid figures reappear, making more distinctive elements—such as an airplane—pop out against the rest. The use of a dull pink-brown color scheme gives the sparing use of brighter colors a similar impact. The art recalls other abstract comics creators, including Jesse Jacobs (who worked on two of the pages) and Theo Ellsworth. Anyone willing to look past the lack of a plot is in for a visual treasure trove of hidden delights.”
” It is insulting to Canadian illustrator Luke Ramsey’s sophisticated artistry that the aspect of this exquisite comic that most fascinates me is figuring out whether it’s a comic at all. These complex, eerie, post-Fort Thunder full-page windows into weird worlds form a series of images that feel unified and satisfying. But they are not necessarily sequential or narrative or comic bookish in any way other than their linework and vivid use of color. Its publisher suggests a comparison to Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass’ 1982 film “Koyaanisqatsi,” a gorgeous, dialogue-free, meditative study of American urban and pastoral landscapes. But while Ramsey’s work has a similar mystical, hypnotic quality, “Koyaanisqatsi” is often championed as cinema at its purest, while this work challenges most definitions of the comics medium. A less aesthetically akin, but more accurate, comparison can be made to the intricately detailed, debauched crowd scenes that burst forth from underground comix legend S. Clay Wilson’s 1967 portfolio. Like Wilson’s work, Ramsey presents a collection of studies that not only demonstrate an artist’s profound dedication to laborious, transcendent picture-making, but also includes as much humor, sex, political commentary, intrigue, transgression and excess into each drawing as one would hope to find in a 200-page graphic novel. Add in mysterious sci-fi and apocalyptic elements, and Ramsey has crafted a wordless, non-story that’s paradoxically one of the best reads of the year.”
-Jake Austen, Chicago Tribune
” The only dialog in this book occurs on one of the first pages as Ramsey (freelance illustrator, New York Times) asks questions to get the reader thinking along his lines. The volume is a collection of illustrations (solos from Ramsey and some collaboration with other artists) of “an anti-character” who “finds sentience through art exploration.” To describe the illustrations using words is difficult because they defy written language. The images, such as an alien creature holding a human while being rushed into the sky on a bed of snakes (a recurring theme, along with connectedness) will require a full visual investigation from the reader. The intricacies of the artwork will astound as a simple background drawing comes to life upon a later viewing. The back cover informs the reader that “this book is meant to be read forward and back, returned to, and treated like a mystical text.” Good art should make you think. Great art should make you think differently. Ramsey might not have a mystical text on his hands, but he does make the reader think differently. Verdict: While more art collection than graphic novel, this book will find a home with fans of surrealism, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and M.C. Escher.”
—Jason L. Steagall, Library Journal
“Luke Ramsey’s INTELLIGENT SENTIENT? defies description. Its back-cover copy takes a pretty impressive swing, though: “INTELLIGENT SENTIENT? feels like an artifact from another time — a lost feature in Omni magazine or the album booklet for a late 1970s Hawkwind record or, perhaps, a print version of Koyaanisqaatsi.” In fact it doesn’t really quite feel like any of those things, but the comparisons in sum point you in the right direction: they evoke the pure found-object other worldliness and unsettling artifactual shimmer of this weird and startling thing. It’s an item that floats in its own self-sustaining cloud of unknowing – a mislaid, untraceable document of a long-forgotten future. Among the things it’s documenting are: motherboards and root systems; almond-eyed aliens; snakes made of snakes; mushroom clouds trees with trunks of tangled red veins; the exploitation, subversion and destruction of a bountiful, frightening planet; insectoid mandalas, third eyes, astral projections; puppets, puppetmasters, secret societies; shadows and distorted reflections; the ways the writhing, chaotic mass of the natural world fuses to the sleekly ominous silent hum of the digital one. In this thematically and stylistically linked series of wordless illustrations, Ramsey’s art bends and folds in on itself, redoubling and kaleidoscoping into endless patterns, fractals, double helixes and splintered nuclei, building a mythos of interconnection and unearthly mystery. There’s no rendering in these hyperdetailed kenophobic drawings – just an endless, roiling ocean of squiggles and geometric shapes: anarchic, filigreed abstraction wriggling within the strictures of gorgeously designed clean-line compositions. His stretched-out landscape-format images bubble and twist, exploring the endlessly replicating, mirrored architectures of both our universe and culture. As above, so below. The same esoteric heiroglyphs – pyramids, obelisks, eyes, coils, snakes – keep recurring through the book, appearing both as natural formations and branded onto labels, displayed on the sides of vehicles, inscribed into flesh. INTELLIGENT SENTIENT? explores the secret lives of images — how the transcendent visual archetypes of myth and nature spawn and split in our viral and mindless cultural exchange, which uses up then reiterates used up structures and compositions and icons. In Ramsey’s vision, a supermarket check-out line is as hauntingly empty and alienating as the star-strewn sky. They both make you feel small and alone, and they are both in a certain sense masks for the unknowable essence of reality. As in the stunningly detailed but unassuming, even modest pink-on-pink cover, Ramsey uses a combination of high- and low-contrast color choices to introduce a shrouded dimensionality to his strange compositions. He buries painstaking detail in barely-differentiated shades of black on dark brown, or red ink on a red background. It shows an admirable willingness to camouflage his own beautiful and laborious work, and its coy subtlety is magnetic — it lures you deeper and deeper into this book’s quiet, disconcerting simulated reality. It whispers that you should look closer. There’s always more to see – always more paths to follow and lines to unravel. INTELLIGENT SENTIENT? is animated by a precise and compelling aesthetics that reinvents the universe with a kind of paranoid wonder, builds it up and breaks it down. Its inscrutable message has a cryptic urgency: the world is not the world. There is unspeakable beauty and cunning intelligence hiding behind every curtain. Pull them back at your own risk. I’m almost to the end of this review, and I still haven’t answered the most pressing question posed by INTELLIGENT SENTIENT?: should you read it while high on mushrooms? I haven’t taken mushrooms in a very long time, so I can’t speak from experience. I feel I should be cautious here and advise against it. The horror vacui in here is very ominous and itchy, and maybe too compelling for a psilocybin-vulnerable mind to handle. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone’s psychic break. But there’s a deep longing in Ramsey’s artwork for some kind of ineffable communion that lies beyond the limits of language and ego. This book wants to be ripped free from its confining context. It’s a world in and of itself, and it aspires to exist on its own terms – not as a collection of illustrations but as a teeming, unfathomable reality. It wants you to fall inside. INTELLIGENT SENTIENT? represents a wild, reckless thrust past the petty fears and estrangements and oppressions of mudane life into a frightening, beautiful, unmapped terrain – a bold attempt to establish contact with the thing behind the thing. It deserves an unguarded mind to meet it on its journey. So come to this book ready to believe. Eager to be abducted. Let Luke Ramsey and his collaborators pry open your mind. See what spills out. So in other words, yeah. Read this book on mushrooms. Then report back here and together we can try to signal the mothership.”
– Josh O’Neill, Locust Moon Comics, Philadelphia
“Don’t expect much of a plot from Luke Ramsey’s Intelligent Sentient? (Drawn & Quarterly), a 64-page art book of gorgeous filigreed drawings exploring themes of creation, evolution, war, technology, and artistic identity. There’s the smallest hint of a narrative that unfolds over the course of the book, but the reader defines the details of the story by drawing connections between the rich illustrations, meaning no two interpretations are going to be exactly alike. Before diving in, it’s worth reading the book’s front matter, which provides valuable context regarding the multitude of loaded questions Ramsey unpacks through his artwork. But Ramsey isn’t providing any answers. Instead, he’s visualizing the questions in his artwork, finding new avenues to explore heady topics like mankind’s relationship with nature and the pitfalls of technological advancement. This approach is best exemplified by an illustration that shows the outline of a person with his palms up, arms bent at the elbow, as if he’s saying, “I don’t know.” Question marks appear all over the body, forming in the segments of brain-like tissue that compose the entire image, and the drawing is the color of ground meat. The combination of the palette, pattern, and punctuation poses a question about the relationship between body and mind, but because of where the image falls in the sequence, it could also be about the evolution of man and the formation of a mind that separates him from animals. Like any great abstract art, Ramsey’s illustrations provide enough substance to spark ideas while allowing plenty of room for individual interpretation, which can easily change between readings. This is an art book, so it doesn’t take very long to get through, but it has a lot of re-read value. The themes become clearer when the reader has a base understanding of the big picture, and there’s so much detail in the artwork that it’s easy to find new things that may have been missed the first time through. There’s something hypnotic about the fine lines, bold colors, and recurring textures of Ramsey’s illustrations, making Intelligent Sentient? an especially immersive title that pulls the viewer deep into a totally unpredictable environment. Toward the end of the book, Ramsey starts to direct his focus inward, exploring his own artistic identity through the use of an “anti-character” inspired by the figures of Keith Haring. Ramsey isn’t shy about pointing out specific influences on his art; one of the drawings is a direct homage to works by Tove Jansson, Pablo Picasso, Jeff Koons, and Moebius (among others), and that image is followed by a series of illustrations by artists with whom Ramsey identifies. Jon Boam, Jesse Jacobs, and Michael DeForge are a few of the visionary creators that turn up the psychedelic elements leading up the book’s conclusion, and this voyage through the work of Ramsey’s contemporaries informs his art throughout the rest of the book.”
– Oliver Sava, A.V CLUB
“There are times when you come across an upcoming book that just seems to sing from the page, and this one is particularly intriguing given that it can be read in either direction. Or at random. It’s a comic of theme rather than narrative, and the transition from visual arts to the world of the sequential is an interesting one to navigate; there’s an implicit willingness to break the rules alongside an undeniable corruption from the medium itself. The appeal of a comic that can be read both forwards and backwards is the hidden seduction of sequential art: order from chaos, the subjective story. Or, y’know, pretty pictures.”
-Laura Sneddon, ComicbookGRRRL
“While it’s reductive to make sweeping generalizations about an entire genre, it’s fair to say that many of Canada’s most exciting young cartoonists have shifted away from the autobiographical bachelor pad-realism of the ’90s toward an abstract surrealism informed by lysergic Euro sci-fi comics and fine art. Luke Ramsey’s Intelligent Sentient? is a wordless sequence of obsessively detailed widescreen compositions exploring the artistic “line” as it runs through our conceptions of nature, intelligence, society and existence.
What narrative there may be hangs upon a blank Keith Haring-esque protagonist who appears from time to time. Ramsey refers to it in his introduction as “an anti-character, a de-evolved human from a grey race” exploring its surroundings in space and time. The “grey race” of the protagonist suggests an urge to evade the political and grasp at the universal. The book is at its most awesome and oracular when it grapples with how to represent the inexpressible complexity and mystery of nature, and of technology within nature. By comparison, its satirical jabs at militarism and consumerism fall a little flat.
The real protagonist of IS? is existence itself. Both the subjects and the environments of Ramsey’s art are consistently shown to be composed of wriggling masses of worms, circuitry or vegetation. These are all means of representing the “line,” which in the cosmology of a cartoon universe represents the basis of matter. In this sense, Ramsey’s drawings have much in common with mandatas, where the act of cartooning becomes akin to meditating on the infinite.
Two-thirds of the way through the book, Ramsey turns the book over to a diverse cast of fellow explorers, including Canadian alt-comics stars Michael DeForge (Lose) and Jesse Jacobs (By This Shall You Know Him), whose fixation on organic geometric structures in particular is a natural fit. Each artist brings a welcome new dimension to a book that is a feast for the open-minded eye.”
-JM Francheteau, Broken Pencil
“Intelligent Sentient? is presented as a series of striking images arranged around the theme of abstracting contemporary consciousness executed in a complex cartooning language that is shared by the likes of fellow Canadians, Michael DeForge and Jesse Jacobs, but there are clearly hints of a narrative embedded within the sequence that can be teased out by readers as they flip through the pages; each will feel the process of looking gradually evolving into the the experience of reading. ”
– The Copacetic Comics Company
“Art or silent story book? You decide. There’s certainly plenty of evolution across the landscape pages along with an AKIRA-like black, spherical set-back. Objects like pyramids are picked up and played with, signals are sent and received. Life. This book is teeming with life. From a primordial, scab-scarlet soup, through the earliest of sea critters with all that cartilage going on, past the woolly mammoths and equally hairy humans to futuristic, circuit-board cities and a veritable alien invasion. The penultimate page follows a final evolution of sorts, from the physical form to the free-roaming spirit. There are patterns within patterns and most of those patterns are snakes. Or eels. Or lampreys. Or lungfish. I don’t really know which but evidently Luke loves that shape. Some of them are hidden, while some of them are staring you right in the face. Three of those faces belong to anthropomorphic snakes – one vaguely Egyptian, another perhaps Mayan, while the middle one has all kinds of fascist / Germanic shit going on – and these in turn are made up of a multitude of snakes in the same way Medusa’s hair had hissy fits. I know those are snakes: they have tongues. Later on there are some actual landscapes in radically different styles and brush or nib thicknesses, sharing a sand, pink, cream, caramel and chocolate colour scheme. I don’t mean dairy milk chocolate, I mean that limp-ass cooking chocolate you used to get 35 years ago, surely now banned by international law. Think American only worse. I don’t know what the point to fit was: stopping step-sons from pilfering it from the pantry overnight? It worked! Anyway, one of those landscapes is a network of Escher-like walkways I can easily see being a platform game, probably involving a precariously balanced silver sphere. So that’s my evening’s dream booked.”
– Stephen L Holland , Page 45
“In this short, wordless picture book for adults, patterns & repetitions, digressions & variations are layered against each other and then built into detailed images laden with social and political commentary. Ramsey’s detailed freehand drawings are disturbing and beautiful in an intricate, abstract and evocative kind of dark way. Absolutely absorbing!”
-Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library
“Oh my goodness! I keep renewing this short wordless graphic novel because each time I go to return it I get sucked back in. I have been showing it to everyone who comes near enough for me to drag them in. It’s ridiculous! The author statement at the back says that among other things Ramsey is interested in “detailed freehand drawing.” And that is a vast understatement. The freehand drawings in his book are beyond detailed in a way that is fascinating and addictive for me. I can take about two square inches of just about any page of this and get lost in the patterns and repetitions, digressions and variations. But the way he layers them against each other is even more engrossing. Then he builds these layers into whole images that are laden with social commentary and almost an ethos which was incredible. There are certain motifs that show up throughout – snakes (yes, I LOVE a graphic book filled with snakes!), aliens and vines among them. And certain themes recur – the battle between nature and technology, the pervasiveness and power of commercialism, destruction and seeing. It is disturbing and beautiful in an intricate, abstract, evocative kind of dark way. Brief moments of hopefulness and beauty are interrupted by creepy elements or shocking contrasts. The color palette (the same as 1970s kitchen appliances) is alternately dark and exuberant and somehow the overall effect that Ramsey achieves is to hold so many contrasting things together in one small space. It’s wonderful!
-Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library
“This isn’t a graphic novel. I’ve heard it referred to as such, but it’s really not. Even books like Al Columbia’s ‘Pim and Francie’ and Jeff Ladouceur’s ‘Holy Moly’ are closer relatives to proper sequential art. It’s actually an art-book/artist’s jam with an ‘exquisite corpse’-thing happening, even though the only thread uniting the panoramic spreads by Luke Ramsey and company is a loose concept: “(…)an anti-character, a de-evolved member of a grey race”. Alright. A psycho-chemical solution made up of elements way too cool for the periodic table…
…The Incal, Akira, Forming, Powr Mastrs, Capacity, By This Shall You Know Him, Ant Colony…
One drawing inspired the next, and each contribution was influenced by the art that preceded it; but it’s unquestionably Luke Ramsey’s book. ‘Intelligent Sentient’ looks incredible, a slim but well-designed 64-page hardcover packed with the clean lines and intricate compositions I jabber on about constantly. It’s the same cosmic-hallucinogenic subject matter mined by Jesse Moynihan, Theo Ellsworth and Jesse Jacobs… aliens doing very alien things; gargantuan creatures made up of countless smaller creatures; structures like organic scaffolding floating through empty space — you get the idea. If you’re a fan of this brand of art-comics inspired by ‘The Incal’ and ‘The Air-tight Garage’, you should love this. Just don’t expect speech balloons or a coherent narrative.
Thanks to the unassuming introduction hidden on the indicia page, I learned that the many stylistic shifts — especially one 2-page spread that I initially assumed Ramsey had surgically extracted from Jesse Jacobs’ brain — were actually the work of several collaborators and contributors… including the unmistakable art of Jacobs and Michael Deforge. The first half is mostly by Ramsey himself, and the second half is mostly by his gathering of awesome pals. I’ll skip the hyperbole for once, but just say that yet another Canadian artist-cartoonist has joined my long list of favorites. Great Stuff. Not a comic.”
“Really great. Gets wilder and wilder as the book progresses, approaching the lofty heights of the Codex Seraphinianus. Reasonably short, too, and each image is cram-packed with detail. There’s a sort of narrative running through the book, too, that’s hard to put into words. You have to puzzle over it for a while before you start picking up on that. I hope Luke Ramsey puts out more books, but from the look of it this took quite a while to make. The price is right, too, for such a small book so densely packed with ideas and wild images.
-Gordon E Anderson