No one likes where he or she is from. When you grow up somewhere, you become accustomed to it, know it inch for inch, and eventually have the drive to seek new surroundings. Some people beckon that call and some just tamp it down. Terrance Zdunich does both. His 12-issue limited series The Molting is truly an endeavor: Zdunich did the scripting, the art and the publishing, He is perhaps better known as the co-writer of Repo! The Genetic Opera, but with this publication he proves his versatility. While the film is an exercise in excess (with most success) The Molting is an intimate, painful look at a family and his toil has given us an engrossing, sinewy look into the life of an American family that is beyond the fringes of fucked-up.
The Molting works because it’s mean as hell. Issue 1, “Guilty Susie,” follows Joseph’s mother Susie Pryzkind née Deveraux, living in remote Muscoy, California with her brother and their aunt and uncle. Instead of highlighting their comedic cruelty, Zdunich focuses on their neglect, which is even crueler, and establishes the chain of failure that permeates this family in every aspect. By the time that Uncle Henry shoots Susie’s brother through the eye, prompting her to execute him and his wife, there are no expectations of a happy ending for anyone. Those feelings, that need for redemption, it burns right up along with that house — like Susie’s dreams, her innocence and any hope of normalcy.
Clearly a deeply personal work, the rest of the issues follow the Pryzkind family, almost literally from their beginnings — one chapter begins in the Paleolithic area and diverts to the book’s present: Anaheim, 1992. The book’s main focus is on Joseph, a maladjusted but bright kid, trying to escape his life through his talents. But hold those eye rolls, dear reader — Zdunich hears you. Pryzkind has a shitty life and a need to escape, but it isn’t going to be Hollywoodized. He has a concerned teacher, but the school’s principal is more concerned with fucking her and putting Joseph’s older brother behind bars than he is about the education of his students. His talents go largely ignored, and even when he enters the pivotal high school art contest, he loses. He has to, really, as it’s all he’s ever known. Zdunich gives us a moving look at loneliness — Joseph is often portrayed on his own, walking down a hall with other kids in the background or just sitting in his room, slaved over a desk. He’s the only thing filling most spaces, which gives a real immediacy and attraction — the only thing worth looking at in this life.
Zdunich employs a thematic motif of cockroaches throughout — there are roaches in the Muscoy shed, the Pryzkind home is infested, and Joseph has recurring nightmares. The eponymous act of shedding represents Joseph’s desire to leave, to drift, but like the roaches he sees, he’s helpless, tethered to his life out of necessity. He is drifting, scavenging, putting his feelers out for any kind of connection, but often is stomped out by his situation. Zdunich’s art is impressive — it’s visceral, kinetic and engenders a genuine reaction. The constant skitching of the bugs through the issues is remarkedly effective — it makes your skin crawl by reading it, by seeing it. A scene where Joseph pours a box of cereal, only to find it completely overtaken by bugs, is as gruesome and revolting as anything that happens in the first act.
While Zdunich is the primary creator, colorist Brian Johnson and letterer Oceano Ransford are the force that makes this series a transformative work. Johnson employs deep, opposing colors — the harsh oranges of the desert, the cold and unwelcoming purples of the Pryzkind home, the dark blue haze of Anaheim after dark — they all convey supersaturation. Ransford’s design and lettering is exemplary — from his hand-drawn sound effects to the different styles of representing dialogue (graffiti for the gang bangers, a shaky, scratchy style for Susie, etc.) Ransford shows a deep understanding of comics language and of style. The book’s layouts are eye-catching and suggestive, perfectly fitted to Zdunich’s skilled art and Johnson’s robust palette.
Adding to the personality of the title, each issue ends with the creators sharing stories that relate to the theme of the chapter — one issue has Joseph in a fight, so they tell the stories of their first physical encounters and the like. It’s a charming addition to give the creators some face, but also supplements the narrative by giving the reader a thorough insight into the minds that formed everything. The Molting is indeed a well-plotted and deeply troubled look into a deeply troubled life. Anaheim 1992 might as well be purgatory, and Zdunich nails that feeling of restlessness and despair that youth can’t help but find. While I only got to read through Issue 6, where the climax begins to unravel, it’s a surprisingly effective stopping point — I’m left like Joseph — trapped, wanting more, but limited through outside forces. But always wanting more.
To buy copies of The Molting go to the comic’s official website.
Rafael Gaitan was born in 1985, but he belongs to the ’70s. He is a big fan of onomatopoeia, being profane and spelling words right on the first try. Rafael has a hilariously infrequent blog and writes love letters to inanimate objects as well as tweets of whiskey and the mysteries of the heart at @bearsurprise. He ain’t got time to bleed.