Friday, May 30, 2014

Fantasy Minis: Christopher Green, Bernard Stiegler, Jamie Hibdon

The Reptile Mind, by Bernard Stiegler. This is a deeply weird, intensely-drawn comic about an intelligent, dinosaur-like reptile who adopts a neanderthal boy as the recipient of her race's knowledge and history. In a series of densely-drawn (sometimes stippled with fine detail) panels, the boy undergoes a ritual that brings him in touch with a ghostly figure. The story then segues into what appears to be the present, as a hunter and his daughter happen upon the reptile and manage to kill it. They then adopt the boy, who is frightened beyond belief. The meat of this comic is in the detail and the visceral quality of every drawing, as the reader gets to feel the sinew and bones being snapped and the sheer density of the jungle. It's an intense, brutal and yet strangely beautiful comic. There's a sense in which every line has meaning in terms of establishing the home turf of the reptile and her adopted son, especially at an emotional level. The hunter and his daughter stick out almost painfully, warping a familiar pattern. At its heart, the comic is precisely about warping those sorts of patterns, first in terms of the sacrifice and ceremony that gives the boy knowledge and then in terms of an entire way of life being extinguished and a radically alien one being introduced.

Where Ever Flows The River, by Christopher Green. This is a very good fantasy quest piece that's really about the ties of family and the ways in which their betrayals can feel so brutal. It begins with the death of the father of Kale, a young woman consistently frustrated by his many manipulative schemes. Of course, his will requested that she and his son-in-law take his body on a trip to the mountains for his final resting place. Of course, this turns out to be another scheme, one that winds up involving his granddaughter as well as his other family members in a bid to gain a certain kind of magical power. Green's character design for his fantasy world is just off-kilter enough to make the reader understand that this environment has different rules than our world. The elongated, oblong noses on each character are one such cue, in addition to the vaguely medieval setting. His line is otherwise simple and unfussy, relying on the beautiful and restrained use of color to truly flesh out the characters and their surroundings. The book looks hand-colored, with what looks like colored pencil, giving the comic an organic and lively feel. Once the quest portion of the comic really takes off, Green propels the action with key panels getting bigger to emphasize the nature of the threats and then smaller again to show how the situation is resolved in a frantic manner. This pattern repeats until the final threat occupies an entire splash page. Green's resolution of this story isn't through brute strength or magic, but instead a sacrifice that belies the father's scheming. The simplicity of Green's line belies the dark nature of this story and its mix of cynicism and hope toward family relationships.

Lingua Franca Comics Volume 2, by Jamie Hibdon. This collection of sci-fi and super-hero stories is all over the place, ranging from primitive, scrawled fights between aliens and robots that look like they were lifted from a sixth grader's notebook to a finely-rendered brawl between a dopey superhero and a rubbery alien. In the interstitial portions of the book, there are quieter, more thoughtful strips (like the one above) that hint at the book's overall themes of loneliness and helplessness. The more refined drawings are quite nice to look at, as Hibdon has a great understanding of comic book "physics", as it were: the ways in which superpowered characters bend reality around them and how to make fantastic actions seem naturalistic while retaining their energy. The cruder stories were hard to parse even at a basic level. Hibdon's mini, Star Seed, meets somewhere in the middle. It's a bit of space mythology featuring a race of rabbit-like creatures dedicated to seeding new stars in the heavens, until one of them is captured by a monster. It's clear that spontaneity and continuously maintaining the sense that this is work ripped straight from a notebook are priorities for Hibdon. Some of it is so loose that it lacks coherency, but Hibdon's gambles pay off at other points.

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