Thursday, August 9, 2012

Sequart Reprints: Wormdye

This article was originally published in 2007 at
In very short order, the new publishing concern Secret Acres has established themselves as one that is willing to publish the most eccentric, idiosyncratic and exciting material. Along with Picturebox, Buenaventura Press, Bodega and Sparkplug, there's an exciting sense that the remarkable minicomics talent currently in bloom will have publishing outlets available to them run by individuals who have a passion and understanding for this material. In addition, publishers like Secret Acres give the artists the opportunity to publish in a format that allows their work to look its best, especially when the artists themselves are able to design it. Eamon Espey's collection of minicomics, Wormdye, is a perfect example of this idea in action. This darkly humorous collection of loosely-related stories has a feverish quality to it, a density in its thick blacks and manic crosshatching that draws the reader into Espey's world.

The very first story in the first chapter of the book, "A New Place To Lay", acts as a sort of shot across the bow of the reader's sensibilities. It begins with two young boys holding up a pet cat with a look of glee on their faces, only to force him into the microwave for a clearly-calculated experiment ("press Defrost, then 30") that leads to an ever-escalating series of horrific but hilarious events. The eventual gag, which lands the dead cat on the dinner table in front of them as an object lesson to their sister from their parents (who mistook the cat for a miscarriage found in the toilet), brilliantly establishes a nightmarish but logically consistent world. It's an unnerving, disturbing world, yet one that is rooted in the familiar. Its impact is unquestionably visceral, where the reader is simultaneously horrified and yet can't help laughing.

Reading Espey's work is unusual because while so much of what he does is the mark of a true original, it's interesting to compare his work to artists who share some of his sensibilities. There's a trace of Mike Diana's graphic and gruesome black and white simplicity, but Espey's ideas are more sophisticated and his imagery more playful & clever. There's an element of Jim Woodring's nightmare logic and stark beauty in the world he creates along with the sense of the absurd and sifting through cultural detritus that we find in Gary Panter. Like the work of both of those artists, Wormdye demands that the reader engage this world on its own terms or not at all. We can also see elements from Henriette Valium's manic imagery and dissatisfaction with modernity and the same kind of obsessiveness Al Columbia has with children and the truly disturbing quality of fairy tales (where horrible things happen to children, often as a sort of object lesson). Lastly, Espey possesses Rory Hayes' ability to immerse the reader in a nightmarish, singular vision of warped innocence, crazed imagery and shocking but funny violence. If I'm a bit all over the place here in my comparisons, it's because Espey's work defies easy analysis.

For example, the story "Children of the Invertebrate" can be summed up as follows: human/insect hybrid children are captured by the Pope's stormtroopers so that he may use their blood to strengthen his clergy. They manage to escape their imprisonment across the River Styx (sacrificing their rescuer) and wind up on an island where they meet up with other escaped hybrids who have gone native and must sacrifice ten virgins to appease their volcano god. The Pope pursues them by boat and in an effort to quickly capture them, has himself shot out of a cannon, only to land in the volcano, appeasing the god within. Espey stews together elements of myth and his own imagination in a story that gets funnier and more awful as it proceeds, filled with a number of humorous beats and sight gags. His sense of comic timing is impeccable, and the fact that he lets himself take ideas to their logical (and often hideous) extremes is always done in service of the story and the gag.

"Corrupt Seed" builds on myths and fairy tales, weaving in elements of the stories of Prometheus, Pandora and Little Red Riding Hood in a modern tableau, recast as a sort of voyeuristic fantasy. The way that stories are told--on elaborately-designed vases in the past and on TV now--is a key element to how we spy on the world, creating our own fantasies. Some of the chapters eschew standard narrative, instead using stacked images to tell instead build its commentary. "Cremation of Care" constructs its pages to comment on the fetishization of violence and war, combining the image of the factory of war with that of the altar of ritualistic, religious sacrifice. "Giants In Heat" touches on similar subjects, almost looking like they could be models for stained glass paintings in some demented church.

The last story in the book, "Blood Is The Cow", recapitulates the first story as the two boys we met in the first story once again turn an act of curiousity (cutting off a cow's udder so as to get the milk out faster) results in unexpected carnage. They themselves once again manage to avoid detection and punishment, but this time that violence is visited upon them in unexpected ways. The story then warps into conspiracy theories, secret corn-centered societies, aliens and yet more ritual sacrifice. Regurgitation is a key element of this story, representing both the vain attempt to revive ones' own vitality as well as the possibility of rebirth and regeneration. This book is a stunning debut of a fully-formed talent, one whose evolution is difficult to predict but will be fascinating to watch.

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