Foo Swee Chin (aka FSC) is a rare talent who made her way from Singapore into the American pop culture scene in 2002 when she teamed up with Serena Valentino to co-create and illustrate Nightmares and Fairytales. Her introduction to the once indy-comic giant, Slave Labor Graphics, was an accident instigated by her search for a JTHM poster1. It was a short but inspired merger. Previously FSC had found some success through Neko Press with the publication of Lost Stock of Children and Mince, but it was this team-up within the indy comics publisher Slave Labor Graphics that propelled her art into the spotlight. Like many of the old Slave Labor stable, FSC has since been relatively obscure in the US recently although she remains active on Google+, Instagram and Tumblr. Following the success of Nightmares and Fairytales, FSC was able to explore her own creative power again. She had three other comics published by Slave Labor before vanishing from the US comic book market. First there were Zeet and Chimney 25, two 32 page single issue comics. Then in 2008 FSC had her original graphic novel MuZz published – a fantasy-horror following the tragic lives of two drastically different women whose disastrously touch all those around them.
In all of her works Foo Swee Chin’s dialogue is consistently lyrical, with a nonsensical grasp of plot that is similar to Alice in Wonderland. It’s fun reading her comics since you never know where here characters are going to wander off to and what strange things they are going to say. In small doses this meandering through delicately drawn otherworldly places is a lot of fun. In a 200+ page graphic novel with a mindbogglingly complicated story structure, it’s draining trying to grasp the sequence of events and how the characters interact. MuZz is a very difficult read in dire need of an editor. Most pages are crawling with text, and combined with FSC’s unique scrawling imagery it becomes quite a challenge to get into the flow of the story. This is not a book that you can flip open to a random page and start reading; at least if you want to be able to follow what’s happening. Even then, trying to figure out who is doing what is like trying to nail down Grant Morrison’s The Filth.
(Spoilers) As far as I can figure out, here is what MuZz is about: In a distopian future, humans no longer believe in love and are disdainful of emotion and family. There’s a severe food shortage, so people have turned to eating babies who are either “farmed” or bought wholesale from private sellers. From these miserable people the other realms of reality draw dreams, nightmares and figments to power their machines and populate their cities. Waking up in the wrong area of the afterlife, the human/ possible android Farllee is trying to figure out who she is and how she got there. All she can gather is that there’s a central city that everyone is trying to get to called Muzz. But Farllee isn’t alone in her journey. The scarf she wears is a powerful spell which is keeping a malevolent Muzzian/ former human at bay. His mission: to avenge his sister’s death at the hands of a group of ancient Muzzians and destroy Earth, thus cutting off the power to the other realms. Again, given how all-over-the-place the story if this synopsis is just a best guess.
By far the most challenging aspect of MuZz is the language. FSC gives her world not only a very alien look with dream-like logic, but an entire lexicon of terms and phrases. In keeping with the otherworldliness of MuZz, characters possess different speech patterns dependent on their hierarchy in Muzz society or on what dimension they are from.
In spite of its flaws the art is delightful with many little details delicately inserted into the most interesting places. Of particular note are the outfits that FSC dresses her characters in. Wonderfully theatrical and intricate, the clothing of each character is highly distinguishing. The many lower Muzzians and creatures range from cute to misshaped. The design of the Devil is particularly inspired.
Despite its flaws the atmosphere of whimsy mixed with anger, frustration and sadness that permeates the world of MuZz is the main reason to pick up this book. In the art, in the bizarre plot turns, and in each character there exists an existential crisis. There is very little joy that can be felt in the smooth, dark tones FSC employs in her art. Characters repeatedly encourage each other to die, yet become comically indignant when their own lives are endangered. MuZz dances around heavy material like depression and suicide without letting it drag down the mood of the book. It becomes endearing in a weird way, and it’s not often you can say that about a fantasy-horror comic. MuZz is a very unique project with great art and strangely compelling characters (after you finally piece together their backstories). It needs a rewrite to cut down on all the unnecessary text, but it’s still a worthwhile read if for no other reason than because it’s a throwback to the glory days of goth comics.
1Foo Swee Chin. Interview with Foo Swee Chin. Fairytales and Confetti Jellybeans. Jamaica Dyer. Web. 24 July 2015.