Review: Moving Pictures by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen

Moving Pictures

Written by Kathryn Immonen
Art by Stuart Immonen

$14.95 / 144 Pages / Black & White / Paperback

Suggested for Mature Readers

Top Shelf Productions



It is a matter of fact that during the second World War, people and objects and morals frequently disappeared. Some were taken by uniformed officers in broad daylight in full view of the public. Others vanished in more covert ways, the only evidence of their abduction being their absence from the everyday. In looking back, there are many first-person accounts and many visuals that bear testament to the horrors of genocide and abject hatred run amok during the period. Concrete evidence. Living evidence. But for many who lived in Europe during that time, blind or ignorant to the full extent of what was happening to those vanished people and objects and morals, the great fear was the unknown. Pieces were removed from the typical and the usual and the routine. The constants were being taken. And we can only imagine just how frightening that must have been. Someone, for whatever reason, was toying with the physics of a Tuesday morning in the market. Where had bread gone? Where had the baker gone? Where had the certainty of waving to the baker and buying a loaf of rye gone? Where had certainty gone?

In Kathryn and Stuart Immonen's Moving Pictures, a Canadian transport to France named Ila Gardner poses such questions. People are disappearing from their rightful places and possessions, including works of fine art, are being cataloged, as if they too might be removed. The word Nazi is not spoken in this book, perhaps because Ila is somewhat less concerned by those responsible for these abductions than by the mere idea that such a thing could even happen. It is an absurdity, but it is also a reality to which she's become resigned. Maybe this is the most frightening aspect of the story; for however angry Ila might be, she's also accepted this occupation and seige, and can only try and adapt to its demands.

Moving Pictures is a challenging book. Its structure is deeply complex, with at least two timelines running parrallel. As such, it's a bit of a puzzle, and might benefit from multiple readings. One thread concerns an interrogation between Ila and Rolf Hauptmann, her counterpart in the German Military Art Commission. They're both engaged in the organization and preservation of a collection of fine art works housed in a French wine cellar. Hauptmann wants to ensure that Germany's pride is maintained and her great works transported back home. Ila and her group of curators and stewards wish to retain what works are rightly theirs, but also to protect the pieces from being lost or damaged. Other threads and vignettes showcase Ila's interaction with her co-workers, most of whom plan to get out of the country. The order of events is anything but chronoloigcal, leaving certain scenes vague until the proper context builds up later in the story. But this isn't the only reason Moving Pictures is a challenge.

While we often brand stories as being cinematic, Moving Pictures is better likened to a stage play. A very small and intimate play at that. Scenes are often centered around two people talking through very specific, very nuanced dialogue. The conversations are much deeper and naturalistic than in the average drama, so there is very little explicit exposition. It's all about inferance. Which makes for compelling reading with a very steep learning curve. I was reminded of the crisp, if sometimes cryptic dialogue of David Mamet or even Hemingway.

I say that the book is a challenge rather than simply being difficult, because the emotional impact greatly outweighs any frustration with the narrative. It's hardly impenetrable. There are scenes where Ila likens her consternation at having to label great works of art with the injustice of the Nazi's insistence on categorizing, even compartmentalizing classes of people. How can we attempt to label individuals when it's impossible even to define one style of art from another? If objects are so complicated and so rich with nuance, than surely a human being must be harder to define, to bundle. In my favorite section, Ila takes a moment to observe one of the collection's lesser paintings, ruminating on how a portrait so abstract and "invisible" must obviously have been significant to the artist, and not a subject to be passed over between more important, more notable, more visible images. Kathryn Immonen's words are so impactful in these passages, and so poetic without feeling like a philosophical tangent.

For his part, Stuart's black and white pages are so pristine and so effective. There's a crookedness to his urban landscapes and a rhythm to the layouts that make the whole affair downright haunting. He's tasked with composing page after page of talking heads, but by dolling out a variety of angles and playing with light and shadow, he keeps it dramatic and gripping. He also has the opportunity to recreate several images of fine art in pen and ink, and they're downright breathtaking. These two really work well together.

Terrible things still happen, things that certainly outweigh any damage to artwork. But there's still a profound sadness to the shuffling of artwork, of things getting lost in our insistence on organizing and prioritizing. Someone created it after all. Someone felt passionate enough to will it into being. If only we had the time and the resources and the vision to celebrate them all, because art deserves no less.

What I'm saying is, don't let Moving Pictures get lost in any kind of shuffle.

Moving Pictures is out now, and you can order it on Amazon.


Story: 4.5 Stars  Art: 5 Stars Overall: 5 Stars


Paul Montgomery thinks it might be the perfect day to get lost in a museum. Find him on Twitter or contact him at 


  1. You are a scholar and a gentleman, Mr. Montgomery and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter!


    Keep up the good work!

  2. Excellent review – I was hoping to see or hear this book mentioned by The Staff, as I was similarly impressed. I was taken in by the depth of the writing and complex structure, and the elegance of the art – we know Stuart to be a chameleon, but this was a style I didn’t anticipate. This is the the most surprising and rewarding comic reading experience of the year so far for me.

  3. Paul, I always look forward to your review of these OGNs. As much as I love my weekly books, I think these are the books that excite me these days. Keem em coming!

  4. Now see here, Montgomery, that’s twice in two weeks you’ve posted reviews to OGNs which I’ve just picked up and not been able to read yet.  Just who do you think you are, finding the time to actually read these things?  I do, however, applaud your taste sir.