Monday, October 26, 2015

Thirty Days of Short Reviews #26: I Saw Him

Nate McDonough's book I Saw Him reads like a Grimm's fairy tale, the sort of story that induces a trickle of sweat down one's neck from anxiety down to the very end. This is a story of a man being kicked out of the house of a kind person who took him after finding him dead drunk and being sent home in the middle of a harsh winter. The bulk of the story follows that trek home through the forest, and all of the dangers and companions he happens across.

The book is at once direct and naturalistic, but also grotesque and filled with magical realist flourishes. Early in the trek, he realizes that he's being tracked by a wolf. That wolf is slowly joined by more and more members of its pack as they slowly but inexorably follow him through the snow. He is joined by a man who tries to defy his surroundings and is punished by them. He's later joined by what seems to be a madman who suddenly pops out of the forest but later leaves him to jump in a frozen lake, in order to throw off the wolves. He then encounters a man with an air of royalty about him who becomes his companion, making all sorts of puzzling comments as he quizzes him about his fear of death. The pair of travelers arrive safely at his house, only to set off an even stranger set of inquiries and a horrific final reveal.

The comic is one long meditation on not just fear of death, but fear of uselessness. At one point, the traveler bemoans that he had not done a "worthwhile thing since he had woke". The wolves represented not just that fear of death, but a sense that his entire worthless life, a life spent quavering in fear (afraid of the dark and the unknown--of trying new things) was coming to a close without him being an active participant in it. The man was a drunk, a wastrel. But even wastrels can understand their lack of worth, even if they seem unwilling to do anything about it. The crazy old man who took a leap of faith and jumped in the lake survived and threw death off his trail through sheer faith and commitment, two things the traveler lacked. The traveler instead chose to simply trudge along doing exactly what he had been doing, hoping that his fears wouldn't catch up to him if he simply tried to ignore them. McDonough showed that one's fears always catch up to you if you don't face them, especially when one is afraid of the unknown. McDonough's drawings of the wolves as snarling, monstrous creatures helps create that sense of impending doom. His figure drawings are lumpy, with thick, swirling black lines forming faces that stand in sharp contrast with the snowy forest but meld into the shadows of the traveler's home. McDonough's line is not precise and the proportions of his figures are a bit wonky at times, and the lettering is problematically sloppy on some pages. Still, there's a terrifyingly majestic sweep to this comic that was crafted from both the tone of the images and the precise way he used language.

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