The Strangest Pictures I Have Seen #12

Posted by on January 10th, 2011 at 1:58 PM

When a comics publisher goes under, it leaves a lot of orphan licenses behind.  Some get scooped up into loving homes, some bounce from halfway house to halfway house, while others are left to wander the earth, forgotten.  So it was when Kevin Eastman’s Tundra Publishing folded after a brief but ambitious run in the early ’90s, and when Denis Kitchen’s venerable Kitchen Sink Press closed its doors in 1999.  Tundra was the first company to publish Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Dave McKean’s Cages, Kitchen Sink the first to publish Alan Moore’s and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell and to reprint Will Eisner’s The Spirit.

Since the ’90s, many of these companies’ titles have been picked up by other publishers.  Others remain in limbo.  And at least one graphic novel was published by both Tundra and Kitchen Sink and, to my knowledge, has never been reprinted since.

From Inside
by John Bergin

I first read From Inside for a college English class called “Hypermedia and Phanopoeia,” which is the kind of thing you do at a liberal-arts school.  It creeped me out, as it’s no doubt creeped out most people who have read it.  The simplistic story is given weight by Bergin’s photorealistic painted art, weird dream/hallucination sequences, and haunting imagery suggestive of the female body: blood, babies, fire, mysterious red boxes, trains.

Okay, trains aren’t female.  Trains are the opposite of female.

Bergin is an artist, animator, and musician who began drawing comics in the 1980s. After publishing some one-shots, he and his friend James O’Barr were picked up by Tundra; Bergin drew From Inside, O’Barr drew The Crow, and the two of them edited the anthology Bone Saw.  The Crow was, as everyone who was a gothy teenager in the ’90s remembers, adapted into a sleeper hit movie, for which Bergin’s band Trust Obey recorded a soundtrack album.  When Tundra went under, both Bergin and O’Barr moved to Kitchen Sink.  After From Inside, Bergin drew the cyberpunk series Golgothika for Caliber, did a few short comics, then moved on to animation and music.

As far as I know, From Inside hasn’t been reprinted since the Kitchen Sink edition, which is too bad, because it’s a pretty good comic and clearly a labor of love. The relentlessly grim, claustrophobic story follows Cee, a pregnant young woman wandering a blasted wasteland of ruins, corpses, and lakes of blood. Eventually she boards a train containing what appear to be the only other living people, headed for some unknown destination.

Cee, recovering from a recent trauma, suffers from vivid nightmares and confusion about what is and isn’t real. Only gradually does it become clear that, aside from Cee’s dreams, most of the bizarre things we see are really happening, including the train, the blood-red lakes, the dog with a skull for a head, and the guy wrapped in bandages who follows Cee around.

The story, as it becomes clearer, is pretty straightforward. What makes the comic memorable is its disturbingly realistic, lovingly painted renderings of strange quasi-Jungian images, many suggesting nightmarish aspects of pregnancy, childbirth, and babies. There are unsettling pregnancy dreams. A creepy masked doctor. A fantasy where Cee becomes a rag doll. A recurring nightmare drawn in charcoal, in a different style from the rest of the book. An apocalyptic version of The Little Engine That Could, also rendered in its own style.  Cee’s fear of the engine’s boiler.  And then there’s the train, a big smoke-belching phallic symbol shooting through it all toward the unknown.

In 2008, Bergin produced a limited-animation feature film of From Inside that made the rounds of the film festivals. This would be a good time for some publisher to bring back the graphic novel.  Eerie and peculiar, it occupies its own niche apart from anything else in comics.  Also, my copy is falling apart and I could really use another one.

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One Response to “The Strangest Pictures I Have Seen #12”

  1. […] Comics | Shaenon Garrity takes a look at the long-out-of-print graphic novel From Inside, by John Bergin, which was published by both Tundra and Kitchen Sink. [The Comics Journal] […]