Thursday, June 12, 2014

NoBrow Week: BlexBolex, Biografiktion

BlexBolex first caught my attention in his NoBrow book DogCrime, which I described as follows: "Blexbolex’s figures are colorformed shapes, sort of like the shapes Richard McGuire used in P+O. He accompanies these frequently dense, melting images with crazy narrative text." The same is true for the loose sequel of sorts to DogCrime, No Man's Land. However, where DogCrime was compact, No Man's Land is epic in sweep. The narrative, which has a crazed and apocalyptic quality, is episodic in nature. One narrative follows our protagonist, a detective/spy who fakes his own suicide after being convicted of a crime and goes on the run. The second narrative consists of flashbacks  that the detective recalls, slowly filling in the missing pieces of information for the reader. Despite the chaos present on each page, there's a fairly tight plot that ties things together, just as each page slowly comes into focus despite the splotches of coral, olive and midnight blue that make up each page.

No Man's Land slowly addresses the detective's struggle as one of battling every aspect of conspiracy imaginable. He is tortured for information by a multi-eyed monster that represents the confluence of military, corporate and governmental forces. An abandoned ship is actually full of biological weapons: plague zombies. He winds up in a house overrun by sharks and commanded by an officer and a priest, saying "I get out of one nightmare only to land in another, just as idiotic", a statement that more-or-less sums up the book as a reading experience. Surviving that experience, he talks to a soldier who had secreted himself away from his superior officers, spilling a story-within-a-story epic about being a grunt in a World War I trench combat situation and trying to figure out a way to survive. That led to yet another story-within-a-story epic about the soldier meeting another soldier who was part of a religious sect that used astral projection and drug use to send their consciousnesses out into the world, even taking over other bodies. Certain revelations come out that lead to the detective's capture by former comrades (including Puss In Boots) that reveal everyone's complicity in the scheme. 

The book's seeming deus ex machina calls back to an earlier sub-plotline but in fact loops the reader back to the very beginning, showing that the opening of the book was either an illusion or else a Schroedinger's cat choice. That is, the book has two possible openings: one where the detective died and one where he didn't, but the reality where he doesn't die leads directly back to the beginning. BlexBolex's comics are disorienting, hilarious, absurd and existentially bleak. Reality is constantly shifting sand and swampland, never allowing the reader or his characters a chance to stand on solid ground. In many respects, the BlexBolex style is the epitome of NoBrow, as it privileges color and design and gives them the same stand as drawing and narrative, and does so in a striking and powerful manner.

The same might be said for the Berlin-based collective known as Biografiktion, a group that consists of Ana Albero, Paul Paetzel and Till Hafenbrak. In their anthology of the same name, Biografiktion sees each artist do a ridiculously fake "biographical" story about a celebrity or celebrities. Collected from their original zine form, this volume features black & white stories about Eddie Murphy and ABBA. These are all strictly for laughs and are quite funny, drawn in a sort of cartoony, primitivist style. The three artists wouldn't look out of place in a Fort Thunder-style anthology, for example. The book opens up with each artist doing a biography of one of the other members of the group. Albero opens up with a vicious story about Paetzel being a "corpulent" kid who turned into a giant karate kid; Paetzel does a story about Hafenbrak becoming a fire-extinguishing hero; and Hafenbrak turns in a whimsical account of why Albero is afraid of bugs and understands both German and French.

The best Eddie Murphy story is one where he decides to write and direct his own romantic comedy, and all of the parts (including the female lead) will be played by him. This leads him to fall in love with the image of his female counterpart and spurs on a crazy series events that involves copious drug use, a hallucination of Sherman "The Nutty Professor" Klump giving him a secret formula, and the creation of his perfect mate. The author is not credited but I'm pretty sure it's Hafenbrak yet again. There's something delightfully creepy about the toothy grimace we see on Murphy's face throughout the story, and in general the slightly flat nature of his drawing style only heightens the craziness of the story. All three artists shine in their ridiculous ABBA stories, as Paetzel sees the young group blessed/cursed by a magical man from the future who fulfills their dreams of success but also lets them know that heartbreak is inevitable--and their fate is now inescapable. It marries silliness with an EC Comics-style ending. Hafenbrak's silly quest comic turns ABBA into something resembling fantasy characters, fulfilling their destiny through music. It's like turning a Luke Pearson comic into something much stranger and quirkier. Albero's comic about a girl resisting punk rock to become a love slave to one of ABBA's members is strangely touching and wistful, focusing on her ability to generate empathy for her characters through her use of body language and gesture. 

While this is the meat of the comic, the full-color sections on work and food fit more into the NoBrow aesthetic valuing color, design and illustration; this was perhaps the inspiration for NoBrow's initial interest in the collective. Mostly silent, these sections range from traditional comics to illustrations that explore those concepts in amusing ways. The brightness and power of the color contrasts are what give these comics such a vivid and memorable quality. They're not just funny, but beautiful as well. I think sometimes it's easy to get lost in the bright palette of the NoBrow aesthetic and miss the fact that a large number of the comics they publish are humor comics, or fantasy comics with a humorous bent. Biografiktion, for all of its flourishes and eccentricities, is a gag book at heart.

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