...one of the most haunting graphic memoirs I've ever read ... [Radtke] has forsaken and been forsaken, she is audacious and vulnerable, she takes risks and she is wounded by what the world is and how it bends back upon itself. As we turn the pages on her journey, we are ravaged and ravished ... With time and its doings as her subject, rot and decay, she does not adhere to strict chronology. She renders mold and splotch and broken things as both terrifying and lovely ... her work is as wonderful and heartbreaking the second time through. I'm still scooped out, but I'm still deeply grateful for the towering power of Radtke's vision.
...[a] brilliant graphic memoir ... a wondrous panel-by-panel archive of the interplay between her rapacious intellect and her expansive imagination ... It's Radtke's quietly erudite, observant language that grounds her intricate and dramatic drawings. But maps, photographs, medical charts, newspaper clippings, and a free-floating Sharpie embedded in the almost 300-page book enhance the storytelling as they surprise and delight.
...[a] remarkable graphic memoir ... Radtke uses delicately drawn panels and the occasional full-page spread to move seamlessly through memories and geographies, creating an elastic sense of time that pulls the reader into her interminably restless mind ... Radtke connects her ennui to a wider landscape, finding a counterpoint to her disquietude in the world of ruins: abandoned towns, crumbling monuments, and cities destroyed by natural disasters or economic downturn ... Radtke is able to create beautiful if odious universes out of the potential of ruin, finding infinitesimal shades of nuance within a soft, greyscale palette ... There are few definitive discoveries in Imagine Wanting Only This, which is frustrating at times, and by its end, it’s unclear whether Radtke has found a solution to the riddle of the book’s title. Her story doesn’t feel resigned to a hard fatalism though, and joy comes in some of its smallest moments, suggesting that the brevity of human time on earth may almost be a liberating thing.
Radtke is, first and foremost, a superhuman of illustration, a grandmaster like Adrian Tomine or Chris Ware. Her photo-based, exquisitely executed drawings appear more realistic and seductive than photographs could ever hope to be ... when Radtke uses sequences of subtly changing images to draw time, the sensory experience of Imagine Wanting Only This becomes almost cinematic ... At times, Imagine Wanting Only This thins out into a travelogue. This is particularly true of the middle section ... As Radtke attempts to engage with an immense idea that is beyond most people’s grasp — how to live when all things come to an end? — what ultimately emerges is a portrait of a powerful mind grappling with alienation and loneliness.
...this is no ruin porn. The story veers towards a question much more complex and compelling: 'What is permanence?' Radtke balances the personal — insomnia, failed love, her own heart ills, and loss — with larger historical forces and events. Her atmospheric black and white drawings shift between close-ups of telling details — a pile of mail on the floor, a single hanging bulb in a garage — and powerful full-page illustrations. She is a master of silhouette and shadow, of negative space, evoking a sense of potent isolation.
...a weird and restless book preoccupied with decaying and destroyed landscapes ... Radtke has a grand theme, but not much by way of what you might call a narrative arc. But her writing is never less than lovely, and her black-and-white drawings are masterfully eloquent: at once vivid and faded. Think Shelley’s Ozymandias, with light top notes of Alison Bechdel and Adrian Tomine.
...in this work, Radtke gropes for something to say and fills her pages with rudimentary, schematic art. The puzzle is to what extent these weaknesses are acts of deliberation, part of a sophisticated effort to imbue the reader with Radtke's own sense of alienation, and to what extent they're merely failures of storytelling. The letdown is the realization that it's mostly the latter ... at a certain point, when someone says so little, you have to conclude they have little to say ... She doesn't mine the emotions her heart condition must inspire, and responds to her uncle's death not with open grief, but with more numbness. This book would be better off with a dose of desperation. As it stands, it's a puzzle that's not worth solving.
Whatever you choose to call it, Imagine Wanting Only This effectively meshes a distilled, starkly confessional, probing text with an equally eloquent visual element ... Radtke’s artwork evokes movie stills more than comic strips, panning cinematographically from full-page landscapes to tightly framed close-ups and intense conversations ... This restless ambition to find answers 'or at least information' about the transitory nature of existence defines Radtke’s profoundly contemplative book.
Kristen Radtke’s serious, haunting Imagine Wanting Only This [is] a long, complex examination of abandonment, the fleetingness of life, the impermanence of everything ... Radtke’s [memoir] you feel that there is no grounding, that everything can go flying off at any moment. It is powerful and bleak, but strangely thrilling.
What's most striking about Kristen Radtke's graphic memoir is the feeling of emptiness it summons in the reader. Imagine Wanting Only This is approached as a memoir, but really it's a rumination on ruins. Radtke's debut is part autobiography, part sobering reflection on the temporary nature of life and love, cities and civilizations ... Radtke's illustrations are clean and uncluttered, but a closer look often reveals an unexpected detail ... By the time New York is underwater, Radtke's story has washed away the reader's strength as well, leaving behind an almost cleansing sense of desolation. There's not much hope for the future - just the heavy knowledge that the present will become the past, that someone will sift through our ruins and wonder who we were.
Readers are made to consider that people decay just as cities crumble, and to mull over the proposition, found in Kristen’s notebook, that 'to abandon something beautiful is where the crime rests.' In this way Radtke counters the potential argument that ruinophilia desensitizes one to suffering and human relatedness ... Kristen’s inaccessibility also makes readers aware that we aren’t given access to others’ thought process either. Imagine Wanting Only This often presents us with characters who, in their most riveting and detached moments, remain wordless. This memoir’s realization of urgency expresses itself in human beings’ silence, which might frustrate readers of prose memoir. But here it is an opportunity for Radtke’s readers to focus, stare, wonder — to remain within urgency itself ... The clarity of the book revels in location, and not character. This is a riveting use of memoir. This is as alienating as it is universal, smug as it is generous, a conclusion as much as an opportunity. Imagine Wanting Only This’s deeply personal aesthetic doesn’t concern itself with others’ points of view. Each reader must decide for herself how successful the work is.
Illustrated in stark and often-gorgeous shades of gray, the book looks the way Radtke feels: at once benumbed and dreamy. The cleanliness of the linework augments the melancholy of the narrative, a technique that calls to mind Adrian Tomine, another significant chronicler of urban solitude ... Yes, Imagine Wanting Only This is about grief and loneliness and mortality, but what makes the book so vital, what elevates it beyond its travelogue-meets-grief-memoir trappings is its incisive examination of female restlessness, of the difficulty of reconciling what she wants (to be an explorer and a creator of art) and what, as a woman, she’s told to want (to be a creator of life).
The most beautiful graphic novel you’ll read all year, Kristen Radtke’s memoir is an absolutely stunning look at what it is to recover from grief, and is so haunting you’ll be thinking about it for days after reading it.
Radtke’s neat, grayscale drawings are detailed and coloring-book precise, and her thoughtful, meticulous narration makes true visual essays of them ... n her cerebral journey of a first book, Radtke, an illustrator, designer, and managing editor of a small press, asks and answers: Why do ruins fascinate, and why is this fascination considered perverse? Why are ruins there at all?
Beautifully written, this multidirectional memoir ties threads and minutiae from Radtke’s personal and family history and history writ large to create a tender, drifting reflection on the calamity life is often built on, the nothing it will become, and the breathtaking beauty of lingering between those forgone conclusions. Her illustration abilities are somewhat stilted—she’s a writer first and an illustrator second—but the art complements her flowing prose. A fantastic example of the graphic novel’s possibilities as a literary medium, this work is visually imperfect, lyrically beautiful, and unquestionably brave.
Reading Kristen Radtke’s Imagine Wanting Only This conjured this familiar feeling, a sense of intimacy only capable of expression through distance and projection — a space where virtual and literal realities intersect ... it is not the shock of acute grief that Radtke chooses to grapple with, but instead the long game of grief, elusive yet persistent, which lingers in the wake of loss. A latent mourning that follows for years, camouflaged in the ongoingness of daily life ... Sustaining a book-length piece of work with this trope could grow exhausting for the reader, but the graphic form reduces the opportunity for navel-gazing. The illustrations speak for themselves and prevent thematic overexposure in their ability to say so much through Radtke’s expert hand — facial expressions contain complex multitudes; blurred silhouettes capture the tenuousness of all we hold onto. Radtke also offers a glimpse, however briefly, of the other side of ruins — they don’t just memorialize degradation and loss, their perseverance is also evidence of stubborn survival. In Radtke’s world of ruins, there is stunted endurance, half-beating hearts that manage to persist, albeit in amputized and atrophic forms. Here, ruin porn feels less like exploitation and more like a trauma ritual. It is a comfort to take the pain of loss and project it onto structures that physically mirror incompleteness. While Radtke doesn’t offer much solace, she manages to avoid leaving the reader with a leaden sense of melancholy. Instead, the book reads as a quiet gift, a visual landscape for navigating a universal human experience: how we must all carry on through the negative space of grief, missing brick by missing brick.
[Radtke is] a master of both prose narrative and visual art ... In a way, what she has done in this impressive book is to revive the dead and recover the lost while illuminating a world in flux, in which change is the only constant. Powerfully illustrated and incisively written—a subtle dazzler of a debut.
[Radtke] transforms the over-studied experience of being a talented artist stuck in that yearning gulf between college’s purpose and life’s demands into something unique and thuddingly real ... The focus on entropy, decay, and randomness would be grim and borderline pretentious if it weren’t delivered with an unusually forthright honesty and deft, Chris Marker–esque ability to parse out meaning and wonder from the smallest details. Though the story of her investigative journey into decay around the world resonates, it is flattened by artwork that, oddly enough, has almost no sense of place.