Labyrinths: Annotated #3 and #4

Posted by on December 21st, 2009 at 5:47 AM

Rob reviews two issues of former CCS student Aaron Cockle’s one-man anthology, ANNOTATED.

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Aaron Cockle’s work is a demented combination of Gabrielle Bell, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, and Zak Sally, with hints of Skip Williamson in his visual style.  Those names are just an attempt at grasping at the best way to categorize these comics dealing with dread, confusion, body horror, ghosts and stories within stories.  Cockle drops both reader and characters into strange situations, then plays them as straight as possible with the dream logic he creates.  In #3’s “Oneirophobia”, we meet a man bandaged from head-to-toe traveling with a woman doing some kind of crisis management work.  The title of the story refers to a fear of dreams, and the protagonist slips deeper and deeper into a nightmarish world.  There’s a certain slow inevitability of the story is what made it unusual, along with the matter-of-factness of the proceedings.  When the protagonist turns into a flower at the end, it makes perfect sense in its own way.

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“The Mark” and “The Black Hearts” deal more directly with a visceral sort of body horror.  In the former story, the protagonist discovers a mark on his face one day that slowly takes over life, horrifying everyone who sees it to the point of him becoming an outcast–and then something else altogether.  This was Cockle’s best-looking story, with a certain whimsical flair with his character design.  It’s a story about losing one’s identity as much as it is a story of an individual’s life being hijacked.  “The Black Hearts” is a distopian story about a Martian colony where everything is going wrong: disease is spreading, science failed to make their crops grow, madness was rampant, the machines were becoming sentient, and the funding was going to be pulled.  The rhythm of this story is what makes it work so well, along with his use of spotting blacks.

In #4, “The Plagiarists” cleverly told of a man whose job it was to root out plagiarism at his school.  Eventually, he found that students were plagiarizing the most obvious of ideas (like E=MC2) but refused to acknowledge that the ideas were someone else’s.  This led to reality being rewritten around him as these liars became successful; when he finally learned their secret, he descended into conspiratorial madness.  That’s a running theme in Cockle’s comics: how his protagonists face insanity.  Some accept their insane circumstances, some manage to dodge madness only by withdrawing from the world, while others are totally enveloped in it.

The stunning “Baltimore Story” is a story within a story about a man’s grandfather and his youth.  That youth involved building a house and trying to survive a winter, being aided by an apparently friendly ghost that spoke only to the storyteller’s great-grandfather.  Cockle then brought a certain Lovecraftian dread to the story as the great-grandfather was driven to madness by the ghost, made explicit only be an image of him holding an axe, covered in blood.  Cockle used a crude, scrawled style for that portion of the story, adding to its power and immediacy.  Cockle added to the weirdness of the storytelling here with the host of the luncheon the story was being told at laughing inappropriately upon its completion, and then moving on to trivial matters.  The storyteller was clearly unable to do so.

The one thing holding Cockle back at this point is his page-to-page draftsmanship.  While he can craft some remarkable characters, his panel-to-panel consistency is a bit wobbly.  One can see the improvement between #3 and #4, but Cockle simply needs to refine his line a bit.  There’s a certain awkwardness in terms of perspective in some of his panels which robs his stories of some of their atmosphere.  It’s clear what Cockle is going for in terms of mood in his stories, and he’s just not quite there yet in fully integrating his ideas, character design & layout with his actual drawing.  I mention these flaws in detail because Cockle has a chance at real greatness and is truly an exciting new voice in comics.

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