Monday, August 8, 2011

Nightmare Logic: Minis from Eamon Espey, Kyle Baddeley, Craig Collins & Iain Laurie

Here's a trio of minis delving into surreal horror:

Silent-V Part 4, by Kyle Baddeley. Baddeley's surreal series about aliens, baby warriors, deadly monks, intelligent killer dingoes and other weirdness continues to make a strange kind of sense. This issue picks up from when young Doug, the series' main protagonist of sorts, gets captured by aliens and leaves Earth. The other story thread concerns that group of monks besieged by dingoes and tree frogs as one monk betrays another by killing him in order to appease their god. The multiple threads, weird story logic and odd asides (baby Doug smoking a cigarette in a flashback, the treefrog decrying the monks' deity because all he gave them was a rain of fish, a stain on a staircase) are starting to remind of Matthew Thurber's work. Neither comic is just weirdness for weirdness's sake, despite an initial surface reading or attempt to describe the plot. This issue doesn't necessarily reveal much about the story's direction, but it does start to draw together the crazy images of the first three issues. Baddeley's is still trying to figure out how best to present this story visually as he develops as an artist. Each issue has seen him solve a storytelling problem, like adding weight to panels in order to give the reader something to rest their eye on and using negative space more effectively. His next step will be working on the relationship between bodies in space. When two or more figures interact with each other in a single panel, his figures sometimes have a tendency to "float" instead of having a sharply defined position with relation to each other. That floating takes a reader out of the flow of reading the page, breaking the reality that Baddeley has established. I expect this to be ironed out over the course of the series.

Roachwell, by Craig Collins & Iain Laurie. This collaboration between Scotsmen Collins & Laurie is an interesting meld between Collins' absurd blackout gags and Laurie's intensely hatched and grotesque character work. Collins exploits Laurie's penchant for body horror (reminiscent of Bill Plympton) to give his jokes weight and a sense of horror. Each page is its own separate narrative gag, yet there's a loose sense of continuity that wraps up with the last story in the book. The gag on each page caps a surreal, sometimes nightmarish sequence for each character, with some sequences being totally silly (like the young man press-ganged into performing with a terrible pop band), others touching on pop culture (like the references to Stephen King's It) and others being funny in an EC Comics manner (like the man pushing his way up through a coffin). The collaboration is interesting because Laurie's own comics tend to go much further in the direction of horror than Collins', and it feels at times like he heaps on atmosphere and dread in ways that Collins did not necessarily make explicit. That said, the weirdness of his imagery heightens Collins' punchlines; for example, in a joke that quotes the Carpenters' "Close To You", birds suddenly appear because "you have a seed bell for a face". There's a value-added grotesqueness that Laurie applies to this image that makes it that much funnier. Collins was wise to let Laurie go to town on his ideas, because the result is the rare comedy/horror comic that works as both.

Ishi's Brain, by Eamon Espey. Espey is a master of nightmare logic, creating silent horrific and absurd scenarios with a remarkably fluid storytelling style. Espey forces the reader to approach the page on his terms, because the denseness and intensity of his drawings keeps one constantly off-balance. This mini has a far more straightforward narrative than many of his comics, involving the journey of a skeletonoid man who must leave his village to track down a brain in an UFO that has kidnapped his livestock. Despite the ridiculousness of that plot summary, Espey immediately establishes this world for the reader, introducing the livestock and implying its mystical importance with his intricate, mystical decorative flourishes. The second page introduces us to the book's protagonist, a triumph of design. The smallish skeleton man, like many of Espey's characters, is deceptively cute. With what seems to be a feather stuck in his skull, he goes about the business of providing for his village and living his life, until the day he has to confront the UFO creature. That particular journey does not end well, and along the way he encounters a number of Espey's more familiar characters (like the maniacal twin boys with curly hair) in a kind of fever dream. The ending is both awful and funny, neatly tying up the narrative threads.

The story is based on Ishi, the last Native American to live free of European influence. The parallels that Espey creates with relation to his character's fate and the fate of Native Americans is not surprising. As always, Espey's images revolve around the capricious and vicious nature of everyday life and the ways in which his characters try to negotiate spaces and forces that are completely out of their control and actively predatory and voracious. Even when he's at his most disturbing in terms of violence and sheer madness as he takes his ideas to their logical conclusion, Espey never abandons his sense of humor, style and themes.

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