Friday, March 7, 2014

31 Days of Short Reviews #7: Nick Andors

Nick Andors' debut A Frozen World is a gritty howl of a comic, one that's perhaps too dependent on shock value and twists and not confident enough in its character-building. The story links together four different character narratives that take place in the distopian city of Irongates, which is partly a metaphor for urban life and partly a metaphor for prison, though for Andors the difference between the two can be considered negligible. The first story is short and mostly serves as set-up for the rest of the narratives, as it depicts what life is like in the city and how some people find ways to escape the mandatory "lock-up" at night and wander around the city. The second story follows a member of the "body patrol", a worker whose job it is to pick up the many corpses that litter the streets of the city. This particular patrolman has been mute to most partners for years after his pregnant wife was murdered in the streets on the day he got married. This story loads up on the pathos and doubles down on misery, though it does allow its protagonist a sweet ending of sorts.

Of course, that's all warm-up for the main narrative, a story about a deadly woman named Anneka. She's introduced to us at a low point, as a contract put out on her life is fulfilled by a group of thugs. Much of the story is a flashback to her childhood and the painful headaches and voice she hears in her head, assuaged only by the occasional ministrations of her neighbor Ivan. Her family life makes that of the character Precious in Push look like a birthday party. The father is overbearingly abusive, both physically and emotionally, while the mother is a crackhead who spends the entire day zoned out. When her father tries to kill her by slicing up his face, she transforms into a killer of killers by cutting off his head. Andors isn't afraid to get dirty, gritty and visceral in these scenes of violence. There's nothing pretty or exciting about them; they are simply horrific and graphic, like when she cuts off a rapist/killer's penis and shows it to him. There are a few twists here that aren't too hard to predict, including the weird twist of the misshapen Ivan never seeming to grow old, and the eventual reveal in the fourth part of the book as to who he actually is.

There is potential to be found in this first work by an artist who clearly poured everything he had into this book. Visually, the resemblance to Farel Dalrymple's realistic but occasionally grotesque and fantastic rendering style is pronounced. There's a heavy reliance on spotting blacks as a means of creating the book's relentlessly downbeat atmosphere. Andors' chops are not quite up to the task of maintaining steady character rendering on page after page, with some figures looking cruder than others. The shock value employed on a number of pages was less interesting than his actual attempts at character development, especially with regard to Anneka. She's an interesting character despite the cliches of her background, and the certain death she faces at the end (without revealing her actual fate) was a clever resolution of her storyline. This book might have had a great emotional impact if Andors had been a bit more restrained in his use of gore and violence, and it seems that in general as a cartoonist, restraint and greater simplicity would be useful watchwords for him.

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