Monday, September 12, 2011

The Strange World of Max Mose

Max Mose is unusual for a graduate of the Center For Cartoon Studies in that his work is quirkier and darker than most of his fellow alums, yet still sits squarely in the genre camp. The closest comparison I can make is it's a bit like alum Dennis St. John but also a lot like the sort of thing that Matthew Thurber does, only not as polished. Beyond the brushy and scratchy nature of his line and the air of gloom & dread he applies to the page's atmosphere with his use of grey, Mose's dialogue is deliberately ornate in an almost stilted manner. The dialogue is anti-naturalistic and even bombastic at times, as characters speak in a patois that seems to belong to a bygone era. He's crazily ambitious, with ideas, jokes, weird asides and other strangeness just spilling off the page. There's going to be a seasoning period for him where he refines his technique and ideas (both are a little on the sloppy side), learning how to stay loose while staying in control, but he's an artist whose next comic will be an exciting event.

feels like an early attempt; it's an 8 page mini at roughly 8.5 x 11". There's a lot of interesting imagery and weird ideas to be found in this literally-titled comic: a hall filled with columns wherein a king looks away from an idol painted red; a toy chest that opens to reveal a scene being performed for children; and an entity trapped by "links and waves". In order to work, the comic demanded a level of precision and balance that just wasn't there; several figures are drawn awkwardly in terms of anatomy and how they relate to others in space, for example. This comic was interesting as a visual exercise, but not much else.

On the other hand, (Agent of the) Counter-Revolution plays with genre conventions and dream-logic comics, making interesting connections between the two. This was the most Thurberesque of his comics, following a mad scientist in a jungle, his greatest creation (a sort of robot Frankenstein monster) and an immortal space goddess in their various quests. There's an actual narrative to be found here, crazy as it is, but Mose is never afraid to stop on a dime and twist around the reader's understanding of reality as the focus unexpectedly shifts from character to character. The design of the comic is interesting, with a cover dominated by lurid pinks and greens and a strange shape (6 x 8", printed landscape). The dialogue is so deliberately weird that it almost feels like a lost Fletcher Hanks comic; consider lines like "Now look at that thing like it's the ugly truth on a chalky ball of dung" and "Reassuringly, the sound coming from this hollow and the whir of my atomic heart a very similar" give one a flavor of how the entire story reads.

All Aboard is the longest of the three minis, a 50-page maritime horror extravaganza that goes over the top ten pages into the story and then continues to pile on from there. In terms of concept, story and tone, Mose crafted a story that is part period-piece romance drama, part horror story, part monster story and a sly parody of all three. Mose doesn't quite pull it off in terms of visuals; his line is frequently wobbly in a way that's distracting. He vacillates between too much detail and too little; backgrounds drop in and out of panels with no warning. There's an occasional awkwardness in the way his characters pose, creating stiffness where there should be fluidity.

That said, there are some amazing images in this book. The close-ups on various characters' faces are a constant source of amusement, thanks in part to the strange angles Mose employs. The way the eyes bug out are especially interesting to look at, and they remind me both of St. John's work as well as Lauren Weinstein's drawings. Of course, the real gems are the drawings of various sea creatures storming a yacht, intent on murdering everyone therein. It's not enough for flying fish to bite crew members; an octopus slithers down a hall and shoots a man with a gun it's pried away from him. A monstrous creature in a kitchen sink slices open a man's skull and sucks his brain out, shouting "The ocean of the soul is where I MARAUD". A giant octopus drags a helicopter underwater. All the while, the family drama plays out, revolving around the daughter of the heir of an oil corporation wanting to marry a business rival.

One gets the sense that All Aboard was produced with some deadline pressure involved, given that it was likely a comic he was doing as an end-of-semester project at CCS. This accounts for some of the sloppiness as well as some of the shortcuts he takes. When I speak of sloppiness, I don't mean that Mose should try to use a clear line or "draw prettier" for lack of a better phrase. Instead, he needs to make every line feel like it's in the right place. Thurber and Weinstein draw using a deliberately grotesque style, but their control over their lines makes it work for them. Mose seems like he's bursting with ideas and simply needs to corral his imagination and be a little more patient in how he depicts it. I am eager to see what he will do with his next long-form work.

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