Digital Ash 12/18/13: Comic Absurdity for Humans, Tragic Absurdity for Robots

A comic review article by: Daniel Elkin, Taylor Lilley

Digital Ash

Never As Bad As You Think: An Original Graphic Novel

(Kathryn Immonen / Stuart Immonen)

3.5 stars

Never As Bad As You Think began life as an OuBaPo-style experiment on the Immonens' website, each page built around the inclusion of a single random word, uploaded weekly over a year. BOOM then collected the strips in hardcover, but it has only recently settled into its (arguably) ideal format, as part of Comixology's Submit offering. Shelling out for a slim hardcover experiment might leave a reader feeling underwhelmed, whereas a $5 download? That's a steal for playtime with the Immonens.

Never As Bad As You Thing

And "Play" is definitely the word here. Though often toned down for his Marvel work, Stuart Immonen's line positively frolics, relishing details like the jaunty angles of crossed legs, or the arcing swing of a handbag punctuating a witty line. Much of what makes these shorts live is the utter engagement of every character, their freedom of expression from thought to thought. There are no dead panels here, no wasted lines, and something in that leanness, that commitment to detailing the essence of each moment and nothing more, makes Never As… a game worth playing.

Never As Bad As You Thing

Kathryn Immonen's script is similarly energised (though the pace may be a tactic to prevent readers from lingering on the few jarring moments) and showcases her unique style of banter. There are moments of comic absurdity, ("you spend your time murdering flowers and noodling customers. You have no depth!", says a restaurant owner to a dog) and more poignant moments of despair ("e is for… every time I try to do something right"), yet they add up to a collection of people wrangling with the moment they're in, however they can. Both script and art are committed to elucidating truth from their characters' moments, and it is this dedication that elevates Never As… above whimsy, and makes this quick read compulsively re-readable.

Of course, part of the re-readability lies in picking out the given words, finding the seams between vignettes. But even when they become apparent, even when the confluence of lives seems forced or one particular dog-owner's soliloquy verges on indulgence, somehow the charm remains. Never As… won't change anyone's life, but as a demonstration of craft, a rare insight into the efforts top-flight creators make to stay limber, and proof of the value of formal limitations, it's worth every cent.

Buy this book on Comixology.

- Taylor Lilley


Snake Oil #8

(Charles Forsman)

4.5 stars

There are a number of cartoonists working today who deal with the pathos of existence by couching it in absurdist humor. Artists like Chris Ware, Noah Van Sciver, Charles Burns, and Brandon Graham often convey the misery of their themes through the subversion of expectations that comic Comics offer. Charles Forsman is one of those cartoonists too, and Snake Oil #8 proves this.

Snake Oil by Charles Forsman

Presenting the narrative in the confines of mostly six or nine-panel pages, and arranged using something akin to the Burroughs cut-up method, Snake Oil #8 tells the story of Daniel Strong, who played a robot in a very popular Science Fiction movie, Star Force. His character was a protocol droid named 2-T0 whose adventures in a galaxy far, far away are enjoined with his robot companion, P2.

Forsman has the good sense to write on the inside cover of this book, “Any similarity between this material and Anthony Daniels is purely coincidental. Seriously. I love Anthony Daniels. I'm sure he is a very nice man.

Just so we're clear on that.

Snake Oil by Charles Forsman

The simplicity of Forsman's lines against his choice of white backgrounds on almost ever page brings the reader's focus to the words in the book. Forsman's choice of conveying his chronology using a disjointed temporal sensibility also narrows that focus.

And it's kind of a brutal story. Daniel Strong's life consisted of a childhood awash in feelings of failure soaked in his father's disapproval and abandonment. Through luck he is able to land a role  in which he is encased in a costume that cancels his individuality. His personality is further subsumed by a dictatorial director who demands a strict adherence to the script. After that, his life is spent living on the meager fame the film afforded him, while replaying much of his own damage when assuming the role of husband and father.

Snake Oil #8 has a quiet emotional punch that, through an active engagement, leaves the reader hollow. Forsman is not going for pity here, nor does he wish to invoke sadness. What he's attempting is to place the reader in the experience of being Daniel Strong. He seems to be getting at ideas of false fame, exploring the concepts of the masks we wear, how the damage we do to each other perpetuates, and, finally, our constant need to be validated.

It is this last idea of validation that carries with it the greatest affecting power in Snake Oil #8, and Forsman pursues this heavy weight with his still, slight hand. Who we are, Forsman seems to say, is as much a product of our failures as it is our successes, and often it takes us a lifetime to understand our own value, or lack thereof. This is the sort of big idea that is a constant in Forsman's work and one that he still seems to be trying to understand himself. Snake Oil #2 is another step in that development and is the kind of book you will return to again and again as you pursue your own self-awareness. It remains and lingers there for you.

Snake Oil #8 is available on Comixology

- Daniel Elkin

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