Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Shape of Things: Distance Mover

Patrick Kyle's Distance Mover (Koyama Press), a collection of his minicomics series, is an excellent example of the "shape and squiggle" school of comics. The humanoid characters in this sci-fi book are unusual shapes and relate to each other in 2D space in nonintuitive ways. Characters who are interacting with each other often seem to slide past each other or else interact at strange angles. That kind of deliberate manipulation of space, scale and dimensionality is reminiscent of the sort of thing that Paper Rad does, wherein the reader is meant to see the drawings as drawings and the colors in the piece as colors in addition to having representational qualities. Kyle's use of this approach is greatly different from Jones, who used it for absurd and satirical effect. Kyle, on the other hand, uses it as a way to express the sheer otherness of the places and characters he introduces in the story. These are places so alien that our conception of space, time and physics not only no longer holds true, but it affects our very perception of aesthetics.

This collection of stories basically breaks down into two stories, following the adventures of cosmic guardian being Mr. Earth and his ship, the Distance Mover. The first story begins as a loose exploration of a different society and its aesthetics and turns into a story about stopping a corrupt government from literally sucking energy away from its people. The second story involves Mr Earth rooting out corruption among his fellow super-powered "Misters" as he's accused of treason and turns into a desperate battle against an all-consuming, evil space ooze. The first story relies almost solely on Kyle's idiosyncratic use of line, but the latter uses lots of ink splotches, zip-a-tone and fuzzy blue/brown shading. Given that the opponent is an all-corrupting black ooze, it makes sense that Kyle would deliberately challenge his delicate use of line with a disruptive and anarchic use of ink.

Simply by following Kyle's formal decisions, there's a great deal to like about this book. For example, the way he depicts motion is not by using traditional comic book zip lines or by way of panel-to-panel transitions. Instead, he takes advantage of the advanced physics of Mr. Earth and uses stretched lines in a static image that appears as stretched to those watching it in the panel, taking advantage of the ways in which comics are actually static purveyors of information rather than a fluid stream of information. He eschews standard definitions of "sequential art" by way of given every page an open format, with no panels delineating time sequences. Some of them are single-image splash pages, while others have multiple images blurring into and out of each other as a way of showing time passing.

While this is a science-fiction comic with moments of suspense, clever plot twists and all sorts of clever surprises, Kyle takes great pains to avoid sci-fi cliches. In part, that's because the pacifism of Mr. Earth makes him an unlikely action story star, yet both of the stories involve long chase and escape scenes. The overriding sense of gentleness as a response to aggression makes the book highly unusual for a genre comic, yet that gentleness in no way dulls the action or the stakes involved. Similarly, while many of the figures and character designs border on abstraction, Kyle invests them with a remarkable sense of expression and emotion. No matter how weird things get in this book and how strange its points of view become, it never stops feeling real. This is a beautiful, odd book, and it's well worth the effort it takes to immerse oneself in its understanding of reality.

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