Minis Monday: Dexter Park and The Neighbor

Posted by on February 21st, 2011 at 2:00 PM

Desmond Reed; B&W; 13 pages each; self-published; $2.50 the pair;

A while back I offered comment on Desmond Reed’s Aloha and The Island. The two comics here, Dexter Park and The Neighbor, come in the very same, cozy, 4¼” x  2¾ ” package with double-thick pages. They feature the very same clear, congenial, pictographically accessible drawing style. Reed uses a single, confident line of unvarying thickness to virtually embody cartooning directness. Outlines define the world and solid blacks, spotted to purpose, are it in terms of texture. No shading, no crosshatching. In a similarly no-nonsense fashion, dialogue is to point yet wholly conversational, amicable and routinely engaging.

From Dexter Park

Such approachability does wonders for the delicate balance struck in Reed’s comics. Each generates real frisson, a suspense that naturally propels a reader toward a resolution concluding with a twist. The hint of danger, if not mayhem, provides the momentum, the playful drawings beguile, the straightforward talk lulls and all the while the wackiness is escalating steadily. (Remember the axe-wielding earthworm in Aloha? The deserted isle with the dog and talking hamburger of The Island?)

The narrative tension evoked in Dexter Park is more concerted, directed. We have a central question that is fairly explicitly developed in terms of theme and plot payoff. Moreover, it’s a mystery that implicitly invites participation, for the reader to match wits and play along. More than usual, the pleasure of the journey is transferred to the destination. An uncharacteristic degree of the comic’s success hinges on the committed reader’s satisfaction with the story’s conclusion.

That reveal takes place during some of the busiest pages I’ve seen from Reed, including his first crowd scene (that I know of). Reed’s art has always been pragmatic, fearless and intuitively apt and this finale exemplifies as much. Another “first” is his commitment to pen and page of a quadriplegic grandfather frog. With beard. Also Dexter Park is about the chattiest of Reed’s comics, occasionally crowdedly so, which may suggest a move to a format with more elbow room or a story pared of some of its intriguing side branches.

The Neighbor immediately benefits from the empathy generated by the self-introduction of its protagonist, Stephen, a cat grateful for an adopted life free of the animal shelter. (Thanks to a particularly crafty move, we will come to see much of the action from the cat’s perspective, over his shoulder, thus deepening our identification.)

From The Neighbor

Then, with delicious, luxurious, Hitchcockian precision (think a feline Rear Window), a shadow creeps across Stephen’s newly charmed existence. All is threatened, all in doubt, all imperiled as menace grows closer in a now claustrophobically ominous situation.

Here, the ride is more irresistible, more compelling. Our concentration has been heightened, as if made unable to ignore the sound of binding ropes cinching tighter. The reader indulges less in the sense of playing along, which, in turn, allows the resolution to demonstrate how gratifying he or she has been played. The Neighbor is certainly among the best within Reed’s still growing body of minicomics work.

images ©2010 Desmond Reed

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