Lo-Fi: Uptight #4

Posted by on December 27th, 2010 at 5:57 AM

Rob reviews the 4th issue of Jordan Crane’s one-man anthology, Uptight (Fantagraphics).

Uptight #4 is an example of that increasingly-rare animal: a satisfying alt-comic book.  At $3.95 and 36 pages, it’s actually a better bargain than a mainstream comic (especially with no ads and no filler).  It’s printed on cheap, thick paper that really soaks up the ink, giving the comic the feel of an alt-weekly zine.  The fact that it’s done by one of the great designers in comics, Jordan Crane, makes it all the more unusual.  Crane’s known for bringing lush production values to his minis like The Last Lonely Saturday, books like The Clouds Above and most especially his old anthology Non.  Publishing two separate stories together on a serialized basis is almost a perverse choice for an artist these days, let alone one as detailed-oriented as Crane.  It’s almost akin to an indy band releasing their new recordings on vinyl.  Maybe a lot of people won’t buy it in that format, but the ones who do will truly appreciate and treasure it.  Releasing Uptight as a comic is perhaps an ode to a certain kind of nostalgia that’s impractical from a sales standpoint, but there’s no question that the comic itself looks fantastic.  As long as his publisher lets him get away with it, I don’t think Crane would ever choose to have something published that didn’t look precisely the way he envisioned it.

Half of the issue is devoted to Crane’s relationship story, “Vicissitude”.  The first chapter revealed that a woman was cheating on her mechanic boyfriend with a smarmy guy who fulfilled her desires, but at great cost to her conscience.  In this issue, we see things from the boyfriend’s point of view, as he begins to strongly suspect that she’s having an affair.  Crane is careful not to be too sympathetic to either party, as the boyfriend here is obsessive, controlling and borderline-abusive in his behavior.  Part of that behavior is fueled by her continually lying to him, but rather than try to talk to her honestly, he bottles up his rage until he starts to dream about killing her.  That rage is finally released on a raccoon rooting through his trash in a brutal sequence given an extra charge because it could have easily been transferred from an animal to his lover.  Like with the first issue, the cover, through the use of color, cleverly gets across the physical and emotional truths of the relationship: she’s pushing him away even as he fantasizes that they’re still close.  Crane’s extensive use of grays gets at the heart of the story: both lovers are living in a morally ambiguous state.

The second story in the issue, “Dark Day”, is a continuation of the story that began with “Freeze Out” in #3.  This is done in his childrens’-book style: lots of lines, no grays, no spotting blacks.  When things do black (as they do in several scenes), it’s because there’s a monstrous, dangerous presence menacing our hero.  Meanwhile, our heroine and her dog (both from The Clouds Above) face a different sort of danger: a corpulent school principal (with the delicious name of Pernicious Codswollop)  first feeds her a lie about switching to a new school and eventually reveals that she’s being sold for unknown (but certainly awful) purposes.  What I like about Crane’s childrens’ work is that it’s creepy and disturbing in the way that the best kid’s lit can be, like a Roald Dahl or back further to the Brothers Grimm.  At the same time, there’s a delightful sense of wonder to be found in these stories.  It speaks to Crane’s versatility that he can pull off a slice-of-life relationship story and a fable in the same comic book.

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