If you’re in Harrogate for Thought Bubble this weekend, why not stop by to say hello to Mindless Men at tables 27b-28, Comixology Originals Hall?

THIS IS A TEST!  Those who are in attendance but who do not want to stop by our table must submit their answer as to why in the form of an essay.  2000 words on the button.  Those who fail will be subject to sanctions so foul they would make Darkseid wince.

This goes double for SILENCE! to Astonish Live, which will be held from 15:30-16:15 at ROOM 2 on Saturday 13th November, and will feature special guests Al Ewing, Becky Cloonan, Hannah Berry and Rachel Stott alongside your usual hosts Al Kennedy, Gary Lactus and The Beast Must Die.

Anyway, if you want to stop by our table, here’s who’ll be lurking there and what they’ll have in store for you…

DAN WHITE AKA THE BEAST MUST DIE

You read it here first, but from tomorrow onward you can carry it around with you like an unusually lush grudge.  We’re talking words, we’re talking pictures, we’re talking a series of gag comics that might curdle the very milk in your eye – that’s right people, we’re talking about the new hardcover collection of Terminus.

As discussed on SILENCE!: Inside the Wanker’s Studio, Dan’s reworked some of these old strips to tighten up early episodes, which have been bound in a beautiful package by the legendary Comic Printing UK.

Dan’s also returned to comics’ favourite double act with Cindy and Biscuit: Year One, a newspaper format comic detailing the early days of our heroes in a series of neat, Bill Watterson-inflected adventures.

Here’s what Broken Fontier’s Andy Oliver, who you still worship as a god despite prior warnings, had to say about it:

With previous Cindy and Biscuit editions all available digitally, Cindy and Biscuit: Year One is a perfect print edition entry point into their world and is entirely accessible for new readers. This time White has adopted a Sunday Comics broadsheet format to take us back to an earlier point in Cindy’s life when she was not much older than a toddler and her relationship with Biscuit was just beginning. As such, these six stories are mostly far more light-hearted in approach, stripped of much of the ever lurking melancholy to be found in her (chronologically) later misadventures and paced more to build up to punchline endings (small excerpts of strips only here!). For those more versed the Cindy and Biscuit universe, though, the foundations for what is to come are very much in evidence in a one-shot that both parodies and celebrates the whole “Year One” comics publishing stunt.

One day the whole world will want to hold this comic.  You can do so tomorrow – what a treat!

FRASER GEESIN AKA GARY LACTUS 

In his top secret alter-ego of Big Massive Genius Fraser Geesin, Gary Lactus has created Purple Hate Balloon in collaboration with Laurie Rowan.

Since I am still obliged to crawl to Andy Oliver as the whole town of Bedford Falls was obliged to crawl to Potter, I will once again quote from his Broken Frontier review:

Purple Hate Balloon is the story of Roger and his pet Susan, the first of a breed of new genetically engineered floating animals known as Labralloons who feed on anger. Given this, Roger has had a valve fitted to his head to let off the excess pressure of being in a state of perpetual rage to satiate Susan’s hunger. Susan’s soothing flatulence on digesting anger though is manifested in the comforting aromas of fabric conditioners, freshly baked bread, and satsumas at Christmas, providing a sense of catharsis for those around her…

You can certainly look for social commentary in Geesin and Rowan’s story, or even project some on it if you want. I’m sure there are parallels and analogies to be drawn. Or you could just absorb it at face value as a self-contained tale with a darkly comedic appeal that is both sublime and delicious in its delivery. This is also some of Geesin’s very best cartooning to date with often cramped panels and slightly distorted characters adding to that skewed sense of a world like ours that has gone off-kilter.

Fraser’s art has been getting better and better over the past few years, and this looks to continue that trend in a suitably ludicrous style.

Best to find out about the fuss and ruckus before it finds out about you!

ANDREW HICKEY AKA ANDRE WHICKEY 

Fresh from his appearance on BBC’s Top Gear, Andrew will be in town to podcast live into the faces of friends and enemies alike.

Know him.  Love him.  Fear him.  Support him on Patreon.

DAVID ALLISON AKA ILLOGICAL VOLUME

In an effort to avoid becoming so bland that he stopped registering on the average taste bud during lockdown, Illogical Volume (stop writing about yourself in the third person! – ed)  has kept himself busy making comics and zines.  The following three projects will be making their Thought Bubble debut this weekend…

Not Because of the People 

Four stories about abandoned places and the people who live there.  Walk around a series of landscapes that may or may not seem familiar, maybe even real.  You are not alone.

Previews available here, here, here and here.

Future Crimes #1

If the plague era has taught us anything, it’s that the power of raw delusion should not be underestimated. Future Crimes #1 proves that anything can be a holiday from yourself. Building a new bookshelf can be an erotic adventure.  Being grilled by your boss can be a gateway to conspiracy.  Actually going on holiday can be a dull day staring at yourself in the bathroom mirror.  Believe.

Bad Poetry

Like good poetry, bad poetry knows no boundaries. Unlike good poetry, bad poetry doesn’t really have any sense of what it’s doing.

One for the true aesthetes in the audience, we’re sure.

DAN COX AND JOHN RIORDAN AKA THE HITSVILLE BOYS

Fresh from their adventures through heaven and hell, Dan and John are back in the building to flog Hitsville UK, the cult musical-pop-art-soap-opera comic book collected in 240 pages of psychedelic colour.

Follow a carnival of angel-voiced grotesques, monster-hunters, imaginary robots, hip-hop agitators, faded 80s starlets, 60s throwbacks, drug-addled producers and demonic accountants as they try to hit the big time.

“Like comics and music? Then get Hitsville UK” – Stuart Maconie, BBC 6 Music

John will also have copies of his gorgeous illustrated guide to Music’s Cult Artists on sale if you really feel like treating yourself this weekend.

FAIR WARNING: THIS POST IS PROBABLY NOT SAFE FOR WORK UNLESS YOU ARE CURRENTLY WORKING FROM YOUR LIVING ROOM

When it comes to the space between desire and action in these comics, the only thing that speaks as loud as money is its absence.  Okay, that’s not quite right, the presence of the devil also speaks pretty clearly in some of these stories, but we’ll get back to those stray shadows in a minute.  Right now I want to talk about a certain kind of freedom.  Right now I want to talk about what’s going on in all those rooms.

When money first makes itself known in the Locas stories, it’s distorting life elsewhere, in another country – and well, you know how that story goes.  The fact that Penny Century is introduced in this same story is almost certainly coincidental – Hernandez was still finding his way at that point, after all – but it doesn’t feel that way when you look back on these early scenes.  Penny’s brand of expressive, ultra-femme fantasy will be synonymous with questions of money and power book throughout its run.  Here as elsewhere she is not necessarily the source of this influence, but she knows where it is and where she hopes it might take her.

Before Maggie the Mechanic has closed out, Maggie has come home to Californian poverty and life with her punk pals.  Money is now something that lives with Penny, away in the labyrinthine halls of H.R. Costigan’s house:

Despite the horns, Costigan isn’t the devil but like I said, we’ll get there eventually…

Back in my first post on Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories, I made a passing reference to the way these earliest tales frame their science fiction and fantasy tropes by making them part of something that happens “over there”, and noted that Gilbert abandoned this specific bank of imagery when he stopped making use of “careless tribal tropes”.  Let’s unpack that a little.

While they never go full Tintin, the early Mechanics stories still make use of some of the tropes of those old adventure comics.  There is a pastiched exoticism to these stories, a sense of that we are looking at something familiar through outsider’s eyes.  This is as apparent in the tribal masks, wooden huts that smell of “kaka” and bewildered locals as it is in the deployment of romance comics tropes – the main love interest is a square-jawed, ultra capable hunk called Rand Race, c’mon!

This ironic distance will develop into something more nuanced in later stories, as I’ve already argued in Keep Your Distance #1, but there’s reason to be wary of its deployment here.  At this stage in the narrative Hernandez is largely just replicating these tropes and setting them in contract to his characters’ home lives, and… well, when I mentioned the science fiction elements of the story happening “over there”, this sort of casual distance from the reality of other lives was implied in the framing, right?

We’re talking about a postcard composed almost entirely of second-hand, othering cliches here, a world that exists purely as backdrop to Maggie’s story:

It’s not always great.

One of the most quietly compelling aspects of these early experiments in genre is the way they foreground the distorting effects of money, how much chaos extractionist living creates in places we (which “we”?) don’t truly believe in.  It’s just a shame that these early stories don’t make any efforts to convince us of the reality of “over there” along the way.

A curious addendum to all of the above comes in the form of the strip Jaime Hernandez drew for the New York Times,  ’La Maggie La Loca’, which revisits these old adventures with tired eyes and asks what might be implied by them.  Rena Titanion, a wrestling legend and adventurer when we first met her, is now retired and living in isolation on “some remote island”.  The story frames her status as a figurehead for “upheaval and revolt” in Latin America as being liberatory, but by this stage in the game enough of a sense of reality has crept in to acknowledge that you could never trust that everyone else would agree with this assessment.

More importantly, the story reunites Maggie with Tse Tse, who appeared in these early stories as an unreconstructed innocent – another sampled cliche, basically.  It’s not just that ‘La Maggie La Loca’ shows Tse Tse as a successful woman with a career that lets her travel the world on her own terms, it’s that in doing so it suggests a novel tension.

Is Tse Tse an old friend who’s come to visit Maggie, or is Maggie a fondly remembered guest in the new Tse Tse comic?  The narration points one way but the other story seems plausible despite the burden of learned perspective.

The islanders Maggie interacts with have a jaggedness to them that is equally convincing, and the idea that the island itself might serve as a background to an outsider’s story is explored with double-edged irony:

You see during this particular reunion Rena thinks everyone’s living in her story, while Maggie is convinced they’re all stuck in their own.  Neither of these perspectives matches what we see in the comic itself – that narration again – but the easy acknowledgement of these difficulties is yet another distance travelled in these pages.

Another thing about ‘La Maggie La Loca’…

When I started getting back into comics in my late teens, The Death of Speedy was the Jaime Hernandez story everyone harked back to.  His brother Gilbert had a couple of big standout stories, but with Jaime it was always The Death of Speedy you were told you should read.

This prompts two questions in my mind: “What was the big deal?” and “Does this judgement hold up?”

In true Love and Rockets style, we’ll get there by going elsewhere first.  I quoted Tom Ewing’s review of The Girl From H.O.P.P.E.R.S. in my first Locas post, and I’ll do it here again at greater length because his description of Hernandez’s working method is still perfect and even more apt to what we’re talking about than it was before:

“Is there a point in Jaime Hernandez’ Locas stories where everything clicks into place and his spatchcocked collection of sci-fi satire, wrestling tales and skits of punk life coheres into the best comic in the world? (Well, for a while it was). Tempting maybe to point to “The Death Of Speedy”, many readers’ pick for his single finest story? It’s brilliant, but it’s a peak in an imperial phase, not the start of one. Maybe “The Return Of Ray D.” which introduces one of Hernandez’ pivotal characters? Ray adds a perspective that makes the Hoppers stories richer, and his self-doubt and well-meaning haplessness grounds the series.

“But I think the moment is in the short story near the beginning of this book, with Joey Glass and Doyle roaming around the rest of the cast looking for Joey’s missing Ape Sex LP, while in the background Maggie and Hopey try and work out where they’re going to live. It’s a simple story – a way of reintroducing the Hoppers cast after a bunch of wrestling tales – but it’s delightful, and it’s also Hernandez showing off the style “The Death Of Speedy”, “Wigwam Bam” and others will depend on, his ability to switch and shuffle narratives with amazing speed, letting a story develop for a tiny handful of economically plotted panels before shifting perspective and checking in on something or someone else. There’s always a narrative throughline (even if it’s not often as obvious a MacGuffin as the Ape Sex LP) but the really vital action and development is generally happening in the background. It’s a structural trick that creates the sense of a vibrant, complicated world.”

As Ewing says, this is a technique that proves surprisingly durable throughout Jaime Hernandez’s work.  It’s a source of great comedy in some of the early strips where Hernandez establishes Maggie and Hopey’s history.  In Wig Wam Bam, it creates an eerie dissonance between what people are talking about (Hopey’s missing person picture) and what the reader find themselves wondering (“Where the fuck is Maggie?”).  In Chester Square, this storytelling format lets us creep up on the results of 600+ pages of life, while way down the line in ‘Ghost of Hoppers’ a minor drama about a stolen knickknack leads Maggie on a trail that will break down the barriers between time and reality.

So what’s special about The Death of Speedy?  Ewing raises the question of its timing in the run, but that’s not all there is to it, right?

For my money, I think the crucial thing is that it’s the most operatic version of the displaced storytelling style described above.  Speedy’s with Maggie’s sister instead of Maggie, except when he isn’t.  Violence is getting dished out in a way that severs the link between transgression and consequence.  Hopey is nowhere to be seen, while Maggie’s other-other love interest Ray is blundering in and out of the story, getting caught up in everything without ever really catching hold of it.  Characters have moments of profound connection but they always come too early, or too late, or both.  It’s a tragedy, basically, in a way that most of these early stories aren’t.  All of the diversions that typically lead us to daft comedy and precarious drama lead to bloodshed here.

The above sequence is one of my favourites in Hernandez’s work.  The way that these panels move from a dog-tired intimacy to a double-dog-tired distance before finally exploding into preposterous rage is perfect, as is the trigger for this eruption of steam and teeth.  In this comic, who really knows what anyone wants?  Better to lay it on the line early if it’s to be anything other than a barbed footnote, but then I guess that’s easier to say from this side of the page than it is to know when you’re in it.

Moving back to the abstract, the fact that much of the violence in this story is tangled with both territorial beef and young romance provides a couple of obvious ways to frame the comic’s aesthetic virtues.  If Hernandez doesn’t allow his story to make any trite points about gang violence – the depictions of what it feels like to get caught up/dragged into dumb macho shit are vivid, the parts of the story about attempts to head off pointless violence are carefully observed, and the pile up of incidents is never less than convincing – then by making this his subject matter, he allows us the opportunity to provide glib commentary of our own.  The mix of young love and tragedy is something many of us will literally have been taught to write about in high school, so again, it might be easier to talk about this story in those terms than it would be to extol the virtues of some of the more low-key chapters.

It’s not my favourite of these stories precisely because those elements make it a bit too easily laudable for my inner contrarian to get behind, and because I think Wig Wam Bam and Ghost of Hoppers outdo it for page-by-page cartooning and scrambled ambition.   As a way to show what Hernandez’ work is all about though?  I get it.  It feels uniquely teachable without being in any way untrue to Hernandez’s art.

Speaking of which, let’s finish off by considering how true to style of Locas this story is in the end.  Despite the fact that this story is called The Death of Speedy (or rather, ‘Vida Loca: The Death of Speedy’), we never actually see the event itself.  The crucial moment happens abruptly, off-panel, and is given the minimum exposition on the page.  Whatever parties are involved in this death, their actions are obscure to us.  All we know is the whirl of bodies and feelings that led up to Speedy’s final moments, and the hauntings that follow.

The first of these is literal.  We’ll get to the story of Speedy’s sister Izzy and the devil in Keep Your Distance #2, but Speedy’s appearance here is a reminder that this story follows the rules of melodrama, and that death does not necessarily mean an end to trouble and worry, no matter what “Speedy” might say in this scene.

Then, a page later, at the very end of the story we get a scene from the past.  While it’s a stubbornly low-key finish, it’s every bit as melodramatic as the visitation that preceded it: a sentimental look back to an untroubled time with many of these characters weaving in and out of each other’s lives, seemingly without consequence.  It’s a fairly straightforward bit of pre-curdled nostalgia, so why does this scene stay with me like a threat?

Because textually and metaphysically, the door is always open in these comics.  This scene is a warning: the past can only grow stronger and there’s no telling what it might have to say to you tomorrow.

My first post about Jaime Hernandez work was already a couple of thousand words long, and all I really talked about there was the various kinds of distance crossed in LOCAS: The Maggie and Hopey Stories.  That’s the first in a series of maybe eight or nine posts about Jaime Hernandez’s work, and the next “real” post will look at the same era of those stories as collected in the more recent paperback editions.

That post is almost done, but I’m amused to find how much I’ve not even talked about.  This is always the way, of course – criticism cannot hope to be truly comprehensive, and a large part of the art involves working out what you can talk about to make a coherent point without telling any lies about the rest.  Still, given how rich these stories are, and how much they’ve made my brain fizz while I’ve been re-reading them, I feel the urge to follow the instruction of my Irish Lit tutor and “Say more”.

Thankfully, I’ve got a little bit of spare material at hand.  You see, the initial idea for Keep Your Distance #1 was to replicate the way those stories skip back and forward through time by including a lot of footnotes that would take you in and out of the flow of the main argument, complicating your reading as you went.   Whatever surface cleverness that provided ultimately didn’t seem to be worth the way it broke up the throughline of the piece – turns out that Jaime Hernandez is a genius and I’m not, go figure.

So, rather than let those tangents go to waste I’m going to post some of them here in the run up to Keep Your Distance #2.

First up, a few thoughts on The Wrestling Stuff and the way you can sometime drag problems of your own making with you into a book!

While I’m not the intended audience for this Kate Skelly-curated book of Hernandez’s drawings of female wrestlers, I do still enjoy Jaime’s wrestling stories.  They give him an excuse to break out some wild caricature and to test his skill at panel composition, and they introduce another flavour to an already spicy cocktail of genres.  All of this is for the good.

The thing is, though, these work best for me when they’re part of the low-key/far-out tapestry than they do when allowed to stand alone.  Whenever the story lingers in this world – as it does intermittently throughout the strip’s run and completely for all of Woah Nellie - I find my interest splintering.

Now my knowledge of the off-centre world these wrestling strips take place in is limited to trying to make sense of twitter posts by my friends and listening to that one Mountain Goats album, but I think I get it.  I’ve spent enough time in bookselling / comics / Scottish politics to understand what happens in worlds that are allowed to grow into their own pocket universes for at least for as long as there’s a crowd around to get the in-jokes.  The way people’s roles start to eat their faces, the bitter rivalries that can only come from the knowledge that your enemy knows you more intimately than many of the people you love… like I said, I think I get it.  Maybe that’s the problem though – when I’m in this space for too long, I’m too busy thinking about how to react to actually react.

Somehow this isn’t an issue when the wrestling escalates into the cosmos in Hernandez’s later stories, but there’s a different type of familiarity at play there, one that has already been well chronicled on this website.  Maybe I just need to read more wrestling comics to make Woah Nellie sing for me like God and Science does.  Maybe one day we’ll find out.  For now, I only know that when we’re deep in this world I’m not.

Still, some cracking pages to appreciate as pages along the way.  Can’t fuck with that.

When I first started trying to work through this, I thought I’d just encountered a weirdly specific failure of the imagination on my part. This is almost right, but not quite, and in the end it’s exactly this sense of things almost-but-not-quite being as I understand them that seems to make it hard for me to stay fully involved when these bouts take over the story.

On this occasion I am very much letting my brain get in the way of the eyes and the page.

Just don’t tell Vicky though, cos I can still see well enough to know that wouldn’t end well for me!

Resistance: A Graphic Novel – Kathryn Briggs and Val McDermid (Profile Books, 2021)

You didn’t need to be a prophet to write about a globe-fucking pandemic back in the pre-Covid era, as Val McDermid did when she presented Resistance as a radio play back in 2017.  All you had to do was tune into the information in a way our government would find inconvenient at best and absurd at worst, implying as it must that photographs of the queen will not grant us dominion over all creatures great and small.

The timeliness of the story – written before we knew what a ball of Covid looked like, partially drawn during the first year of the pandemic, released in the second year – makes for a natural hook, but I suspect that some aspects will find their true resonance later on, when questions about antimicrobial resistance stop seeming even remotely distant or academic.

Val McDermid’s script wears its ambitions plainly – the dialogue is thick with research and the narrative progresses like a tightly controlled experiment.   It falls to artist Kathryn Briggs, then, to provide visuals that make this science fiction vivid on the page.  Thankfully Briggs is a restless and ambitious talent who works up a graphic language that shifts even faster than the situation described in the story.  One minute we’re looking at medical science as thought it’s a cute, distant concept, something that dances around the edges of our lives…

…and then before we know it we are living in a plague-era fresco, trying to work out how and when we started to taste that grit in our mouths that might be sand and might be ashes:

It’s another phenomenal performance from Briggs, who we have praised before on this website, down the pub, and in the pages of the collected edition of Triskelion.  Briggs’ art is alive with texture, but more than that it’s alive to life in all of its aspects.  Her carefully observed figure-work and portraiture is of a piece with her information rich layouts and use of collage.  In being attuned to what’s going on – in a way people will work very hard to convince our governments not to be, mind – Briggs takes us back to that prophetic feeling we may encounter when hearing about Resistance for the first time.

It’s a rush, of course.  Seeing how things connect generally is, no matter how much money gets thrown at telling you otherwise.  Still, it’s a double edged thing, this sensation.  This sort awareness can’t help but prompt a fresh reckoning with our own vulnerability, a reckoning that is at once humbling and painfully necessary.

There are many bad poems in the world.  The ones in this zine fall into three categories: bad poems that were written to be performed quickly and messily, so the author could get out of the scene before the punches started flying; bad poems that were broadcast to the author from one of the world’s many untrustworthy surfaces; bad poems that were written in the “Un”-Happy Shopper notepad the author carried around with him in his youth.

All of them are bad in different ways. We hope that most of them will amuse.

BUY THE PRINT VERSION HERE

or

BUY THE DIGITAL VERSION HERE

 

-Print version is 40 pages, black and white, hand-stapled. Digital version is 38 pages, all black and white except the cover.
-Both version contain 23 poems of questionable value and are lousy with doodles and photographs illustrating the action.
-Each and every copy reeks of squandered ambition and shame, a stench so pungent that it may even be detected through the screen.

Remember: Maggie and Hopey were apart to begin with. It seems strange to have to say it, given that the earliest Locas stories are built around letters from one of these characters to the other, but if you’ve read enough of these comics it can still feel wrong somehow. “Maggie and Hopey” seems like it should be the foundation of these stories, or at least the point of departure, and yet the letters say otherwise.

The fact that these letters managed to escape from the sci-fi romance Maggie was living and made it all the way back to a dive flat back home might feel equally unsettling, if not for how they landed back home:

Maggie’s adventures among the sundered spaceships are big news, for sure, but everyone wants to get a word in because it’s not science fiction or fantasy – it’s just stuff that’s happening over there, alongside the quickly abandoned and careless tribal tropes Hernandez deploys in these early stories.

Still, as I made my way through LOCAS: The Maggie and Hopey Stories again this year, it was a another kind of distance that kept pulling me back down into the sea of ink in front of me. I’ve not read this collection from start to end since it came out in 2004 – in normal times, most of my reading is done on buses and trains so 700 page hardbacks don’t really get much play – but I’ve dipped in and out enough to know my thoughts about these stories.  I also know enough comics artists these days to be aware that seeing old art and new art together in one collection isn’t always pleasant for the creator, but if you’d asked me about LOCAS before this reread, I would have said that this was the most important journey to follow in these pages.

Watching Hernandez jettison detail as his art style takes off can be a source of real pleasure for the reader, then, but even in the earliest Mechanics stories it’s obvious he would have struggled to compose an ugly panel, let alone an ugly page. His gift for conveying character through facial expressions and body language is exemplary from day one…

…and while the clear lines and flat blacks that would come to dominate Hernandez’s pages are a dream to read, the more detail-heavy pages that front-load this collection have a sense of life and discord to them that Jaime still makes occasional use of in his later work.  Take the spiralling angles of this shot from inside a rocket on page 37…

…which finds its later echoes whenever Hernandez needs to make physical space feel alive with alien intelligence:

Or check out those early wrestling shots, which Jaime will work out how to link together more dramatically a couple of hundred pages into this collection, albeit without the crackle of dead technology that shrouds these early images:

The way Hernandez adapts these early textures into his later work goes some way to explaining the unsettled tone of these comics.  Together or apart, Maggie and Hopey exist in a world that can accommodate horned millionaires, wrestlers who dabble in regime change, crash house poverty, space-bound superheroes and demonic shadows.  These more fantastical elements don’t just survive the development of Hernandez’s art style – in fact, these two aspects of his work make each other conceptually possible, with a shifting sense of realism prompting the easy layering of wild cartooning and clipped portraiture in his mature work, and the cartoonist’s restlessness leading these strips into strange new territories whenever his hand demands it.

The one thing that doesn’t stick around in any form from those early strips is the playfulness with page layouts, and that’s a shame because it means we rarely get to see how Jaime would have developed rhythmic action sequences like this one:

…or what he might have learned to do with these mixed tempo pages, where some of the narrative moves moment by moment while other tiers play back and forward with the narration:

Given what follows, it’s an acceptable loss of artistic possibility.

Hello / Cosmic

June 11th, 2021

Dan McDaid – DEGA (self-published, 2021)


First up, the snappy review!  Our very own Botswana Beast has already provided a handy back-cover blurb (“Beautiful… Valerian meets RONIN”), and I won’t pretend that I can disagree or top it because the Lynn Varley 1985 feel of the colours was definitely what kept my eye working through these pages at first.   These colours step out beyond the literal in a way that is alien to many Western genre comics in 2021, creating an emotional palette that operates in tandem with the other narrative elements on the page without ever quite feeling like it’s totally determined by them.  This colour scheme is established in the transition between the loveless blue-greys of space on the first page, and the spark-lit orange glow of the second.  Where colour occurs in the rest of the story, this contrast is played out again and again, always in a slightly different configuration.   This description makes every sound overdetermined, with the harshness of the environment DEGA plays out on being illuminated by the sparse scraps of technology our protagonist has about them, but you generally get the sense that McDaid is more willing to go with what feels right in the moment.

The resulting approach is subtle and varied, finding alien intelligence in the pale tones…

…and unfathomable danger in the warm ones:

Abhay has already talked about the way the colour comes in and out of the story, an “awkward” element which he nevertheless flags up as being a big part of the fun of the book.  I think I can relate – as you might already have guessed, my stupid, structure-obsessed brain definitely spent its first reading focusing on what resonances came out of where and when colour was used in the book.  This wasn’t entirely fruitless – those colours never stop echoing the shifting tone of the first couple of pages – but in the end I think the approach Abhay takes is the more rewarding one.  Sometimes it’s fun to be given the opportunity to question what you’re reacting to and why even when you’re still in the process of reacting, you know?

McDaid’s line has always had a robust edge to it, and there’s a reason that his art lends itself so handily to drawing big lads with chins built for action – wherever they come from, whatever era or milieu they inhabit, his characters tend look like they’ve been summoned into existence to scrap it out with the blank space on the page.    There’s another quality to his images in DEGA though.  Everything McDaid draws here feels like it’s mere seconds from flying apart, and while this effect is given dramatic expression in the coloured pages, the effect is no less striking when it’s conveyed in by the variation in the thickness of the line on the black and white sections:

Either one of these approaches would be magnificent.  Having both of them playing out in front of you at the same time is sublime, and adds to the sense of this book as a journey where all your certainties are slowly blasted away.

It’s a genuinely beautiful book, DEGA.  “Valerian meets Ronin” they’re saying, and they’re right.  It might make you feel like you’re just about to die on your arse in space, but without that feeling it’s not much of an adventure, right?