Lost and Found: Comic Diorama

Posted by on December 14th, 2009 at 6:11 AM

Rob reviews Grant Reynolds’ one-man anthology, COMIC DIORAMA (Top Shelf).
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One thing I’ve always appreciated about Top Shelf is their willingness to work in all sorts of formats, from fancy slipcased hardcovers to what are essentially minicomics. The publisher has leaned more and more toward genre work in recent years, but their minicomics tend to keep them in touch with their more avant-garde roots. Grant Reynolds’ COMIC DIORAMA is such a comic, a haunting and beautifully designed little book that dwelled on sacrifice, dead ends and abjection. This one-man anthology featured five short stories, each of which dealt with themes related to the sea and the stars. His comics remind me a bit of Zak Sally and Lilli Carre’s work, with a scratchy line, an emphasis on moodiness, a clever decorative sense and a pitch-black sense of humor.

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“Legends of Chance Oxblood” was an amusing take on the Arctic travelogue comic, with each page containing a single panel that illustrates whatever weird adventure is occurring while pointing out the enormous blind spot of the narrator as to the feelings of his aide-de-camp toward him. There’s one page where he mistakes his aide’s new lover as a “female mess cook”; the image alone is funny, but having Reynolds name that cook Manfred (nicknamed Manny) just piled on the punchline.

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Reynolds’ strip about Pluto being stripped of its title as a planet, by personifying Pluto going through his year one month (and one panel) at a time, was another example of his wistful sense of humor. Depicting that change of status as Pluto contracting cancer was especially effective, providing a twist on the cliche’ of a character winding up in a very different place a year after the first panel of a calendar strip.

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The best story in the book was “Black Forest Hymn”, a hypnotic, wordless story about a society of creatures with an arm where their heads would normally be. It’s a brutal account of courtship, birth and death in its starkest terms: purely as a set of power relationships. We follow (Mat Brinkman-style) one such creature bathing, drinking and avoiding a predator. When he sees a potential mate, he murders a competitor and rapes his mate, only to have the tables turned on him when the female strangles him. The image of the female using her hand to pull her young out of her as they were born was a startling one, topped only by the image of her young devouring her. The matter-of-fact way that Reynolds paces this story, with no judgment passed on this society, was the key to its success.

“You Are My Heart” was a tale of a mermaid swimming in dark waters, only to be rudely awakened from sleep and thrown into a nightmarish situation where she’s a human sacrifice for a monster. The character design and the way water was drawn reminded me most of Carre’ here. “Where The River Meets The Sea” was most reminiscent of Sally, a densely drawn story about a recovering alcoholic sailor who took to making model ships. The contrast between text and image was striking here, betraying a sense of menace and dread in its visuals belied by the calm of the narration. Reynolds is not what I would call a unique talent, but is rather an excellent storyteller who has synthesized a number of influences in interesting ways.

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2 Responses to “Lost and Found: Comic Diorama”

  1. I bought this and enjoyed it, even though I found “Black Forest Hymn” to be my least favorite of the stories. Why, you may ask? If it were on it’s own I’d love it, but compared to the creativity of the other stories in this comic it just doesn’t seem to be as creative or clever. Just a new spin on the “wild animals fighting and having sex” motif. Maybe I’m missing something…but yeah.

  2. Rob Clough says:

    I might have agreed with you on that until that last page, where the female is devoured by her young. That was, in my view, the most powerful image in the book.