Monday, November 12, 2018

Minis: Eli "Hob" Bishop's Busybody

Busybody #1 is an excellent collection of Eli "Hob" Bishop's dreamy, visceral comics that almost all seem to involve body horror, body modification and/or bodily transformation. Bishop's page layout shifts and breaks on each page, running alongside other narratives. For example, "The Therapist" is a wordless, cartoony story in color about a couples therapist whose method involves mad science: putting them into a machine that combines them into a single, happy entity. Of course, when another couple with problems, the whole process goes horribly awry, until a surprise ending with a happy twist. Bishop contains the narrative to small panels that almost float along the page. "Discovery" runs along the top of these pages, and it's in stark black & white with heavy hatching. It's a shaggy dog joke of sorts about a man who falls in love with a woman but never manages to learn her name. There are no panels in this story; instead, it's an open layout that bleeds together. It's an interesting juxtaposition, as this story has a running series of narrative captions while "Therapist" has none. Both strips are funny with grim elements, and both have a strong punchline.

"Refresher" is a full color strip built on a relatively simple nine panel grid told from a first person perspective via narrative captions. It's the sort of story where the reader is kept in the dark for as long as possible as to exactly what's happening, and the moment of discovery for the reader is also the story's climax. It's about someone who lives in a remote area traveling to the city for something, and we don't learn what it is until the end. Then everything else up until that moment becomes clear. Bishop's line is extremely cartoonish here, looking more like a fantasy comic than anything else.

The centerpiece of the comic is "Shift Report", which has four different but related running narratives, stacked on top of each other on page after page. It's a black & white comic with subtle beige spot-colors that add a deliberate drabness to the proceedings. The setting is a hospital inpatient ward. The top row follows two patients, the second row follows a nurse from the time she wakes up til she's on the job, the third row doesn't even coalesce until later as a dream sequence, and the bottom row follows another nurse from the middle of his day til the end. The story is heavy on minutiae, because that's precisely what a hospital ward is all about: the small, tedious details. Bishop is deliberately stingy with personal details for each of the characters, revealing only what we see when everyone is either at work or laid up in the hospital. Tiny details do indeed emerge with regard to ambitions, relationships, errors and personal characteristics, but they are entirely mediated by the story's beats. It's a fascinating, ambitious way to capture a sort of liminal state of being and the stewards of that experience. I'll be curious to see how the narrative continues to proceed.

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