Tuesday, July 31, 2012

More From Max Mose: Basalt Idol #1

There are a surprising number of artists who have graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies whose primary interest is genre work. Of course, with artists like Denis St. John and Max Mose, genre in this case specifically refers to horror and science-fiction. Mose's new series is a big step up for him, both conceptually and in terms of execution. Like most of the increasingly large wave of alt-cartoonists who make horror comics, it seems like there's a significant influence from Fort Thunder as well as the godfather of alt/genre mash-ups, Gary Panter. Mose doesn't simply impose an insane sci-fi horror template on the world as he knows; instead, his version of reality contains the kind of brutal satire that Panter does so well. Mose's sly commentary on consumer culture and our own complicity in its dominance is a running theme, as the monsters often spring forward as a sort of cosmic, impersonal way to punish humanity. For Mose, coming up with ideas has never been a problem; instead, his earlier comics frequently lacked clarity.

With the first issue of his new series, Basalt Idol, Mose manages to touch on any number of horror and sci-fi tropes in his quirky, slight stiff and off-kilter style with much greater clarity and flow. Considering that this story is twice as complicated as his earlier works, this greater clarity is crucial to the success of the book. Subtitled "Monster Movie", the issue essentially boils down to a fight between a giant monster and a giant robot. Which is good and which is evil shifts as the issue unfolds, but Mose doesn't skimp on ridiculous, full-page shots of mayhem and destruction. What's more interesting about the comic is the commentary on the division in society between those living up in the clouds (complete with a sticky cocoon like substance that envelops homeowners in times of extreme crisis) and those on the ground.  While the monsters are fighting, a revolutionary group (led by an anthropomorphic dog, cat and turtle) sneaks around, waiting to take advantage of the carnage.

The monster itself is a wonderfully bizarre mishmash of multiple heads, stinger arms, lamprey sucker-mouth projections and tree trunk limbs. In typical monster movie fashion, he's unearthed from a deep slumber by greedy industrialists after an opening page featuring a fuzzy creature searching for his perfect mate, only to be captured and eaten by the monster. The reader learns that his monstrous form was the product of a curse from a different planet, forced to consume souls after being taken prisoner. While Mose uses plenty of dense hatching and cross-hatching, he opens up the page for the action scenes, wildly varying his panel formatting from page to page in order to keep the reader off-balance while retaining clarity by allowing for more white space. Simply by resisting the urge to fill up every panel with detail, Mose made this crazy comic far easier to parse. That said, Mose's lettering is still a bit wonky, and his word balloon placement and design can sometimes be distracting. His actual handwriting works quite well as a lettering style, but he has problems keeping it under control and consistently readable, especially when he vacillates in how big he makes his letters. Tightening that up a bit will allow the reader to focus more on his delightfully ragged and weird line as well as the multilayered nature of his narratives.

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