Tuesday, June 10, 2014

NoBrow Week: Robert Hunter, Jose Domingo

Robert Hunter's Map of Days is yet another exquisitely designed, vividly colored comic from NoBrow. The coloring process they use for the books gives every one a startlingly dense and rich palette, allowing cartoonists to use that color saturation as a narrative tool. NoBrow devoted an entire anthology to questions of cosmogony, and Hunter's book is very much about the ramifications of the origins of the world. In particular, what happens to old, heartbroken gods? Hunter's use of color is different than the way Luke Pearson or Jon McNaught (the two breakout stars from the NoBrow stable) tend to use it. It's softer, fuzzier and warmer, even on pages where there are bright yellows and oranges. It's more akin to a children's book, though the Chris Ware influence is still evident. The story itself is intricate and surprising, as the book turns from an initial account of the god-like creature at the center of the earth who falls in love with the sun to a teen staying with his grandfather by the sea during the summer. As the story progresses, what seems to be a quotidian series of anecdotes slowly converges with the first narrative, creating a jarring series of images that pop off the page. Hunter's dynamic use of color really pays off when the two narratives finally collide in an unexpected manner, but he then ups the stakes of the story to create an intense sense of drama by the story's end. The story is also remarkably touching, as it's ultimately about betrayals of trust on multiple and disastrous levels, and how one man tries to make up for his errors. The book is at once one of NoBrow's most stunning and most approachable releases.

Jose Domingo's Adventures of a Japanese Businessman is not unlike a Sergio Aragonnes cartoon on PCP. This entirely silent story begins with the titular businessman walking home after work, on an oversized page with a fairly regular 2x2 panel grid. By the third panel of the first page, Domingo has set this guy up to be at the inadvertent center of a great deal of trouble. In the first four pages alone, the businessman dodges a mobster gun battle, avoids a giant sushi roll sign from crushing him, accidentally inhales a chemical that turns him into a hulking monster and leaps away into a forest filled with magical creatures. That's enough action and mayhem for a single story, but Domingo has more than a hundred more pages of abuse to heap on this poor guy. He comes across a family of cannibals, gets seduced by a trucker who almost accidentally ran him over, gets turned into a leaf by a witch, gets revived by a guru, meets a family of benevolent yeti, dodges yeti hunters, and walks under the surface of the earth. There's an intensely rubbery quality to Domingo's line that actually reminds of another Mad artist--Don Martin. Those yeti have that same trembling, vibratory line that Martin uses. There's also a bit of a video game influence here, as the businessman's big square head and small body make him look like an 8-bit video game character. Just when you think the book can't get any crazier, Domingo leads the reader into my favorite bit, one that caused him to laugh pretty hard. The businessman happens upon a group of people entering what seemed to be a combination of demonic temple and workplace. They got dressed up in robes and their high priest went over a chart of some kind and then sacrificed an infant. Then they all went upstairs to their job: the Postal Service. It was an incredible punchline to a fantastic, unnerving set-up. The last third of the book somehow manages to become even crazier, with trips to hell and monster fights that looked like something out of a Fort Thunder comic dominating the action. The book ends appropriately, with a scatological joke that makes everything right again and an especially amusing double-take in the final panel. This is a work of relentlessly demented genius told with the tight, kinetic precision of a Carl Barks story and packed to the gills with eye pops and carefully-arranged gags. That four-panel grid and the seemingly never-ending journey of the businessman gives the book an almost spiraling feel that becomes vertiginous at times, held in place for the reader thanks to its tiny but indefatigable protagonist. Fans of visceral humor that backs up its gross-outs with gags that were clearly well thought-out for maximum impact must seek out this book.

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