In this column, we'll be looking at three comics that deal with the life of the mind and the delights & terrors within. First up is Phillipe Dupuy's Haunted, a book that's part dream journal and part sketchbook. A loose narrative forms around the trope of our narrator (Dupuy) starting to job in the morning. In each of the "Run Movie" segments, Dupuy encounters an unusual creature that illuminates a particular aspect of his struggle as he's jogging along. In the other stories, we meet a character who is also struggling with something. In his comic, I viewed his running as a metaphor for drawing, and drawing alone in particular. Accustomed as he was to working with a partner (Charles Berberian), I saw this comic as his commentary on working alone, and feeling the urge to scribble down his thoughts as quickly as possible.
One "Run Movie" segment features a dream where Dupuy helplessly watches a number of people in a city square act foolishly until disaster strikes. Not all the dreams are nightmarish--in one "Run Movie" segment, he stumbles upon an empty museum dedicated to his own future works, guarded by a friendly talking dog. After stumbling into a hole, he gets out of trouble with the dog's help by running again. This was the clearest use of the metaphor of running-as-drawing in the book. Later, he meets a talking duck whom he helps out of a funk. The duck's struggle is one of identity crisis--he used travel and the acquisition of material objects as the answer to his existential dread and found that solution lacking. By suggesting giving away the objects as gifts, Dupuy helped him lighten his load.
There's a shaggy dog story about an artist told that he overdraws his portraits trying to figure out how "negative space" works by trying to drink the empty part of a glass of wine, have sex by touching the parts of the body that aren't there, etc. Only by literally having nothing left in his life and having no materials to work with save a piece of paper evicting him from his flat is he able to finally understand how to paint empty space. Another story called "Forest Friends" features more anthropomorphic animals. This group is trying to deal with dog-like friend of theirs who lost an arm (a retelling of the first story in the book, perhaps?). This is a sort of warped companion piece to the slice-of-life stories Dupuy creates with Berberian in their Monsieur Jean stories, only much more visceral and a bit more desperate. Desperation also follows the story of a Mexican wrestler who encounters the one foe he cannot fight and a minotaur who is trapped in a labyrinth and can't die or feel any kind of fulfillment.
The most nightmarish story concerns Dupuy himself. "The Rats" sees him renovating a house and accidentally swallowing a rat. Soon, rats fill up his entire body, unbeknownst to him until one night he vomits the scratchy, black blobs up one by one. Purged, he leaves them behind. This was another story, like "The Dog", that had a frantic quality in its penciling. The idea seemed to have an obsessive quality that he couldn't let go of until it was on the page and out of his system.
Perhaps the key to understanding the whole book is the "Run Movie" segment called "The Old Lady and the Turtle". Meeting a blind woman, she forces him to close his eyes and they drift off to a number of locations. Dupuy obsesses over blindness and losing one's hands in this book, because these are the things that would prevent him from drawing. Ultimately, she advises him to "Learn to lose yourself. You'll stop wondering where you are. And you'll never feel lost again..." This is how Haunted seems to function for Dupuy: as a vehicle for confronting his fears, confronting his nightmares and tackling them head-on where he's at his strongest: on the comics page. He loses himself in these stories, allowing his line to stay loose, lively and scribbly, and winds up, in the last segment, coming to terms with his creations, his fears. This is a bold, remarkable book, especially for an artist who usually creates much more straight-ahead narratives.
Simmons keeps the story moving at a dizzying rate--Jessica goes back to her room to see her monkey friend murdered, is attacked by a bizarre creature, winds up in her benevolent grandparents' house, and is charged to go on a quest to "the barn" with a naked stud named Mr Sugarcock. That duo breathlessly manages to dodge her father and get to the barn to deliver a message to the mysterious, wolflike "Smiths". We leave this volume as Jessica prepares to talk to Papa Smith.
Jessica Farm is cartooning in its purest form. It reads like the kind of comics a kid would come up with in the way it flows, but with all the skill and concerns of a mature artist. This is Simmons' kitchen sink of comics, as he manages to throw in all of his storytelling concerns: sex (especially deviant sexuality), adventure, fantasy, horror, terror and absurdity. The fusion of genre and underground sensibilities has always marked Simmons' best work, and Jessica Farm is the ultimate expression of this urge.