Friday, July 10, 2009

Inside-Out: Follow Me

Rob reviews Jesse Moynihan's debut graphic novel, FOLLOW ME (Bodega Distribution).

FOLLOW ME is actually a follow-up (but stand-alone) to Jesse Moynihan's two issues of THE BACKWARDS FOLDING MIRROR, one of the more delightfully strange series I've ever read. In FOLLOW ME, we see an artist at the height of his powers: confident with his own strengths and weaknesses as a draftsman and turning every idiosyncrasy into a powerful and dynamic sense of style. I've rarely seen a more individually expressive marriage of form and content than in this comic, which has shot up into my personal top ten comics of the year to date. Moynihan effortlessly shifts between and mashes up genres, maintaining a casual sense of humor no matter what sort of weirdness he throws at the reader.

It's hard to pin down influences for this comic. There's certainly some Gary Panter in there, in terms of the ambling narrative and main character who wanders from odd situation and makes sudden, dramatic transformations. But Moynihan eschews Panter's ragged-line quality in his comics. Indeed, there's a smoothness and simplicity to his line that makes reading each page easy. The directness of Moynihan's composition also contrasts him with another possible influence: Mat Brinkman. There's the same kind of crazy internal logic driving Moynihan's narrative as in Brinkman, but Moynihan has a much firmer hand on the reader's eye. Moynihan isn't quite as immersive in terms of his backgrounds as a Brian Ralph, even when leading the reader on a journey.

There's also a delightful vulgarity to Moynihan's work that's rather matter-of-fact, especially with regard to sex and sexuality. Every event that happens to the book's unnamed protagonist (a short man wearing a conical hat) is depicted with an air of detachment, whether it's a passive-aggressive argument with his girlfriend, an encounter with a homeless man who haunts him after his accidental death, or living on past infinity after the end of the world. The protagonist is always slightly restless, never satisfied either at home or away.

FOLLOW ME has a psychedelic bent to it in the truest sense of the word. Many of the stories feel like acid trips, experiences where the filters we put up against the world fall away and our perceptions change. At the same time, genuinely strange things often happen when one is in public in an altered state, and the book brings that sort of feeling to the page. The book starts with a hilarious and eye-opening sequence where the protagonist, after realizing that he's not going to get to see his girlfriend, performs fellatio on himself. Amazingly, that act is referenced again late in the book as he floats in the void and meets up with someone else. There's a loose but very deliberate structure in this book, as throw-away references pop up again repeatedly. Strange images recur and wind up taking different meanings. Unexplained characters take on new roles, like the protagonist's devil-friend who winds up becoming king of the underworld and later shoot's the protagonist's girlfriend.

Very quickly, the book starts to cohere around a central core of short stories. "Mirror Man" features the protagonist's encounter and role in the accidental death of a homeless man who attacks him. The homeless man comes to haunt him after death, but the protagonist is indifferent and refuses to play along; eventually, the homeless man leaves, grumbling "Same shit every day of my life". In "Big Talk", the protagonist dodges a potential break-up from his girlfriend after seeing a vision, collecting her menstrual blood and planting it. The resulting tree that sprouted up had a headless John the Baptist inside, who liked slow jams but had little wisdom to offer. When the protagonist starts to perceive living beings as blobs of energy, he stabs himself in the head (possibly in the pineal gland?) to stop the effect.

"Bubble" plays with time and space conventions after he gets hit by a car; he winds up taking the man who hit him (now dead) on a trip to the ends of the earth, only to be denied access to a hidden valley. He later encounters what appears to be an alternate version of himself inside a weird physical emanation, who revisits a traumatic encounter with someone who accosted him on the street and reformulates it by kissing him (prompting the potential mugger to say, "I'll never be ashamed of love again.") That leads to "Moment of Truth" and a rap pilgrim looking for the best rhymes, who winds up climbing a tree sprouting out of the hero's head and engaging in a rap battle with god (and losing). Finally, "No Choice" throws in all sorts of ritualistic and shamanic rites as the hero destroys the earth, gets yelled at (to no effect) by various shamans, and winds up floating in the void as one of his few companions masturbates.

I realize that my description of the book found in the last three paragraphs sounds like utter gibberish, yet it's a pretty accurate description of what happens. The book has a fluid quality to it that allows Moynihan to go on these very long digressions without the story feeling like weird-for-weird's-sake. This is a book where the reader simply needs to allow oneself to be swept along with what the artist is doing, because a close reading is rewarded by the surprising connections Moynihan makes. Above all else, Moynihan quickly establishes a rhythm to this story, a series of beats that make the reader follow along and flow with the absurd, enigmatic and sometimes inexplicable events of the story. The hero wants answers, wants a purpose, wants wisdom handed to him, but is frustrated to find again and again that there are no answers to be found. He is cynical and smartassed, but keeps trying and keeps hoping, even when it literally takes forever to do so.

The book rewards multiple readings, as connections become clearer and certain jokes start to make more sense. Moynihan unravels time, space, ego and the Other in a manner that manages to be direct in some aspects of its presentation (like when he undergoes various transformations) and oblique in others (like why it's happening). Things simply happen, and the hero has a choice in how to deal with them--and his choice is to be as aggressive as possible when it comes to knowledge and as passive as possible when it comes to relationships. That willingness to engage with the abstract rather than face the complexities of honestly engaging other people is at the core of the hero's journey, and it's a conflict that is never resolved. For the reader, this record of that trip is one not to miss.

1 comment:

  1. I just read this last week, you really get to why it's so good!