Digital Ash 11/20/13: This Shit is SublimeA comic review article by: Danie Elkin, Jason Sacks
(Thomas Kovach / Nishan Patel)
We live in a world full of wonders. Many of the things that we take for granted would have been seen as magic only a few decades ago. And yet, despite all our technological trappings, all our fetishistic tablets and devices that fundamentally change our brain chemistry, we can never escape ourselves. No matter how our world changes, no matter how we embrace the future and accept our role in an ever-changing world, tragedy – true tragedy – will cut through all the mundaneness of our daily lives.
Drawn in a beautifully ornate black-and-white that presents a future that feels part Mike Mignola and part art deco, Thomas Kovach and Nishan Patel present Earth in 2057. Our planet is a bustling place, with cities jam-packed with people and flying video screens, endless police action, a dysfunctional Congress and permanent space stations.
In that world a strange object called Artemis has appeared next the moon, and a set of scientists are sent to investigate it. Among them is Hughes, a man filled with deep sadness since the death five years previously of his young daughter. In the shock of events as the men explore Artemis, Hughes disappears, only for him to have a 2001: A Space Odyssey moment on the ship and emerge in a way that both surprises and gives closure.
I have to admit that I have conflicting emotions about this comic. You can see that I rated it highly for its level of craftsmanship and for the obvious passion that these creators have put into this very meditative and thoughtful minicomic. It's clear that this comic comes from Kovach and Patel's hearts and that they are obviously looking to explore some of their own emotions through the work they present in Arrival.
At the same time, it's hard not to feel at least a little bit manipulated by this comic, by the deus ex machina feel of the twist in the story, while feeling like we're preached to a bit by the ending. The symbolism is so clear, the speeches so full of New Age philosophy, that they grate a bit. They feel a bit too comfortable, pat, too much like a pep talk rather than a story element.
But maybe I'm just wearing my cynical reviewer's hat too tightly and I'm closing myself off a bit from the wonderfully moving thoughts that Kovach and Patel have sought to share with me. Any book that has as a key moment a beatific smile from its protagonist is a book worth celebrating.
- Jason Sacks
Poop Office #2
Well, here's a sentence I never thought I would ever write. “It's been awhile since I last checked in with what was going down at the Poop Office.” Remember when I found myself asking the question, “Has Ben Pooped written a 21st century update of Kafka's Metamorphosis?”
After reading issue two of Poop Office, I need to change that question to: “Has Ben Pooped written a Dadaist manifesto of survival in the bureaucratic structure inherent in modern life?”
My answer to this newly worded question is an unequivocal yes.
Sure Poop Office #2 still makes references to the use of “Compooters” to send “Peemails”, but where issue #1 focused on this sort of humor, issue #2 is all about absurdity. Ben Pooped is telling us that in order to have a chance of thriving in a world gone to shit, we must recast ourselves as turds, assimilate into the bowels of the social order, congeal our impurities, and be defecated back into the system. Otherwise we would go mad.
The late, great, Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson once said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” With Poop Office #2, Ben Pooped has updated this koan and is telling us that “when everything turns to shit, the real shits float to the top.” And who are the real shits in the Poop Office? They are the ones who, when faced with the constant stream of absolutely absurd situations the bureaucratic systems flush their way, keep moving forward without screaming, without giving in to any urge to kill, without blinking an eye. Awash in the spray from founts of fecund fecal force, the true Dadaist turns both turd and a blind but knowing eye at the same time.
Poop Office #2 is genius. The deadpan nature of the writing mixed with the absurdity of the situation, the fact that this is an office staffed by poop, elevates this simple shit joke into social-political commentary. It's not satire, it's something else. It rejects the rational, it rejects the culture, it embraces the disgust, it inverses the process.
It's Dadaist art. What else can it be?
This is no joke. Poop Office #2 espouses the profound. Those talking turds who navigate the beadledom? They are us. It takes the bold artist to hold this type of mirror up to our faces. Ben Pooped is that artist.
- Daniel Elkin
I know the format of this review column is for us to present two reviews of digital comics by two different reviewers, but I just read the new Richard Sala digital-only, Violenzia, and had to jump on here and tell you to grab it from Comixology. Violenzia is a fun, exhilarating thrill-ride.
I've recommended Richard Sala's comics before here on Comics Bulletin, and while Violenzia isn't the most brilliant comic ever produced by America's master of the gender-bending macabre, it's still a delightfully violent and thrillingly lurid take on Satanic cults, nasty Hillbilly villains and a Shadow-like dark avenger lead character who appears to have abilities and powers far beyond those of most mortal men (or women).
One of Sala's hallmarks is presenting events that are only implied and not specifically spelled out in the story. We don't learn the origins of the cult that Violenzia attacks, nor the story of the spoiled heiress at the heart of this tale, nor why she swears revenge against Xadico, and really none of that backmatter matters all that much anyway. We pick up what we need as the story goes on, and after all that whole backstory is more macguffin than central fact of the tale.
Sala presents this story in a looser style than he uses in many of his book. He draws Violenzia in his trademark gorgeously gothic design, with its wonderful mix of sometimes cartoonish, sometimes very specific characters, buildings and props. One aspect of Sala's art that shines in this book is the sensational way that he depicts deep, almost three-dimensional backgrounds. The gorgeous earth-toned colors and brilliantly created color contrasts cause the images to pop against their charmingly well-designed backgrounds.
This is the first Sala comic written and drawn direct for digital, and I think the first comic from Fantagraphics that has been sold as a digital-only. I had so much fun reading this book and Violenzia's bloody adventures that I can't wait to see what comes next.
- Jason Sacks