Follow The Line: Obligatory Artifact and RDCD Fist

Posted by on November 22nd, 2010 at 5:47 AM

Rob reviews Obligatory Artifact, by Jason Overby and RDCD Fist, by Justin Skarhus.

RDCD Fist, by Justin Skarhus.  Skarhus is one of the editors of the intriguing Good Minnesotan anthology, one that frequently includes entries whose contents flirt around the edges of traditional narrative.  This particular mini has its own disturbing logic that kicks in after the seemingly-innocent establishing shots.  One man locks hands with another man, which somehow opens a fleshy, David Cronenberg-inspired gap into another universe that he’s compelled to enter.  Upon rising, he latches onto (and accidentally rips off) the penis from a naked, muscular man who looks a bit like a Gary Panter design.  From there, the comic is a frame-by-frame account of the acts of violence committed by the naked man, culminating in a machine gun emerging from his abdomen and accidentally shooting himself with a bullet that ricocheted.

This is an odd little comic with lovingly-crafted DIY production values, a thin line and an aggressively experimental use of panel placement & design.  Once the reader enters into this nightmarish world, they are whipped and jerked around the page by way of panels floating in space, panels that fracture fan-like across a page, and single-page splashes that track movement and time in a single image.  This comic provides a visceral reading experience, forcing readers to feel both the excitement and tedium of constant and unexpected movement.  There’s also what I think is a backup story called “Unrequited”, about a series of flashes between a boy stumbling through a forest and the total (nuclear?) destruction of said boy and forest. This culminates in an image of the boy by the sea and a tearful mermaid, perhaps mourning her loss.  Overall, this mini is challenging and rewarding for the reader willing to read its images closely and go along for the ride.

Speaking of going along for the ride, Jason Overby’s comics always challenge the reader.  His Obligatory Artifact is a collection of odds and ends and is considerably more disjointed as a result than his usual offerings.  Its title derives from his desire to collect these bits of ephemera on paper as a document of a particular time and process.  I refer to certain of Overby’s comics as “abstract craft”, meaning that there’s a wealth of intensely-detailed drawings on each page, but their status as conventional narrative is intentionally tenuous.  Overby’s stories here are in one of two modes: that dense kind of drawing replete with almost frantic cross-hatching creating a soupy lattice-work of imagery; and a radically simple drawing style that emphasizes text-as-image almost as much as the drawings-as-images in terms of moving the reader along.

Overby doesn’t do much to sell these stories.  In a preface to each story, he tells the reader exactly what he was trying to do, which almost defeats the purpose of actually trying to read (or at times, parse) them.  Before presenting what was the beginning of a potentially long work involving time slips, Overby spells out his intentions.  This cripples the story unfolding for the reader, although admittedly the density of his drawings (which baffle the eye as to how to approach them) would have made it difficult to figure out what was going on.

That said, multiple readings made the story clearer as one began to decipher Overby’s visual language, but the lack of cohesion in this story made such an effort not really worth the time.  Some of the one to two page shorts in the last section were intriguing (especially Overby’s clever take on Batman where the character understands he’s not so much a person as an expected process), but Overby’s own ambivalence toward them is more interesting than the stories themselves.  This mini is really about an artist trying to figure out what to do, what to say how to say it and why.  It’s all about questions without answers and a window into an artist’s process.  At that level, the mini is interesting.  As a reading experience, it’s entirely disposable.

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