Thursday, December 22, 2016

Thirty-One Days of CCS #22: Dakota McFadzean, Ian Richardson

Last Mountain #3, by Dakota McFadzean. This is the first collection of McFadzean's comic strip Murray Geister: Paranormal Investigator. This looks like it's going to wind up being the talented McFadzean's first long-form work after a career spent publishing affecting, dark and sometimes supernaturally-tinged comics. The titular character is near retirement age and is desperate to find a way to make money, as he can't get enough hours as a grocery store clerk. His other job, as a paranormal investigator, is one that he's taken seriously but has never found any real evidence with regard to paranormal activity. In the course of the story, he's asked to investigate a home that a frantic woman claims may have a crack that leads to "the other side". A quick investigation yields some mice and little else, other than an angry and disappointed customer.

Geister wants out of the paranormal business and regrets the ad he placed in the phone book. In his first person narrative, Geister reveals himself to be intelligent, self-effacing and skeptical. In the actions in the story itself, he's awkward, unsure of himself and generally doesn't know his place in the world anymore. Much of his narrative is about the human brain: how it arranges random data into patterns, the ways in which a disconnect between mind and body during sleep can cause sleep paralysis, This line of inquiry leads him to wonder the ways in which has own brain has fooled him, either because of memory or because of the actual events he wants to see. A chance encounter with a fortune teller on the street set off his usual charlatan alarms until she called out his name, and even that wasn't convincing since he was a quasi-public figure. (Her flyer purported that she would be helpful in court cases as well as with immigration.) What was true, as revealed in his dreams and in the final scene of this issue, was that he was very much haunted by a figure from his childhood named Ollie, and it became clear that this probably initially spurred his interest in the paranormal.

Geister is a complex character. His cool skepticism is what got him kicked out of the Haunting Society. He can't help but watch and chuckle at the Specter Catchers TV show. However, without his paranormal investigating, he has no identity or purpose. His future is grim. As the fortune teller pointed out, he has a lot of unresolved pain. McFadzean's character design is subtle but telling. Geister has male pattern baldness, a mustache and glasses. He's the sort of character where it's clear that he's been robbed of some of his youth, that he's lost a lot of vitality. He has clarity about everything except his own life, and McFadzean emphasizes that every time he encounters someone younger than he is who's in a hurry. The slightly grotesque character design of others in the story also subtly plays off what was probably once a more heroic appearance for Geister. A fellow Haunting Society member looks like a Dan Clowes character in his broad face, thick glasses, balding pate but long hair and no sense whatsoever of his own strangeness. Even the customers have the raw, ugly mien of people in a hurry who don't care to whom they're rude. McFadzean has set up a lot of interesting possibilities in this first chapter, and I look forward to the final work.

At Dusk, by Ian Richardson. This quartet of horror stories features short, punchy entries, a lurid use of color, and a merciless edge. Richardson goes for the throat in every story, doesn't bother with useless narrative background and basically elevates the tension of every story from the first panel and doesn't relent. In "Demon", for example, we meet a smiling female creature who causes death and destruction everywhere she goes, simply by dint of her presence. She makes men fight over her and kill for her as she blithely goes on her way, leaving a visceral trail of blood and gore. Richardson does not skimp on those details, and his strategy is to keep piling on until the climax of the story. It's a method he uses in his other stories as well to varying degrees. "Malaise" is a first-person account of a warrior navigating a monster apocalypse, wherein he has to kill dozens of monsters just to get supplies. Those "supplies" just turns out to be a cup of coffee, as his ironic social anxiety prevents him from doing anything else. The frenetic pacing of this story makes it a thriller, as we follow the protagonist in battle after battle.

"Turn Up The Heat" imagines god as a space alien who was just keeping Earth around as something to eat later, and an astronaut encounters it to do its bidding--warm up the Earth even more (presumably with nuclear war). Richardson goes space Lovecraft for god's design, a horrible series of swirls and tentacles that's madness-inducing. The last page, when the now-possessed astronaut kills the rest of his crew on his space station, has some nice visual flourishes as the blood from his former crewmate's neck floats upward and fills the panel from the top down. Richardson is a detail-oriented artist and that's a great example of how he considers his visual impact. "The Munchies" is the weakest of the stories, as a seemingly benevolent soup kitchen cook guides a homeless man who's had a little too much to drink to the basement, where he's made a sacrifice to the creatures living there. The cook is then devoured and reborn after the creatures feed. The contrast of charity with depravity doesn't work that well because this is the one case in the book where some understanding of what's going on beyond what we see on the surface might have been useful. Unlike the other stories, which build nicely to their conclusions, this one is anticlimactic. Still, Richardson's ability to zero in on key narrative points while providing plenty of other entertainment in the meantime makes this a solidly constructed anthology.

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