Oct 1, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 219: The Art of Dodging Shadows #1, 2002


A bit of a jump back in time today, publication-wise at least. I picked up a stack of self-published comics from Vicious Ambitious, a Calgary-based indie publisher from the early 2000s this summer at a garage sale, and they've been patiently waiting in the stack of things I will read when I'm finished with the PhD. All grad students will recognize that pile as the ever-growing, never-read pile that you eventually store drafts of articles on top of. To combat this, I blew off the dust and grabbed a comic.

I'll admit, the crime/mob/hitman genre of story telling has never been a favourite of mine. I have a slight moral compunction (one of the few) with celebrating this kind of criminal enterprise in the form of fiction, something I hold to be sacred. So I was reading this comic well out of my comfort zone. This is not always a bad thing, and often a very good thing, to do.

Nicholas Johnson's got an interesting art style. I've talked quite a bit over the last few weeks about this idea of abstraction and the removal of detail in cartooning styles. Mr. Johnson's style is definitely in this area, but is as different from the other works I've talked about as they are from each other. I was recently reading a piece by Northrop Frye about the idea of the relationship between geometrical figures and representational artworks, and he notes that just because everything is based on these ostensible Platonic solids doesn't mean that there's a finite number of combinations of them. His analogy is in reference to myth as the correlate of these geometrical figures for imaginative literature, and I think the metaphor can be extended to the abstracted cartoon-style of comics art. Mr. Johnson's art is as different from Charles Schulz's Peanuts (the example Barbara Postema utilizes when discussing the technique in Narrative Structure in Comics) as Schulz's is from Scott McCloud's cartooned version of himself in Understanding Comics. Yet somehow these disparate-but-related styles manage to convey the same sorts of emotions with just as many details removed. Comics really are a cool communications medium.

Technical stuff aside, and my reservations about the genre, I really like the characters and the direction of the story here. It's got kind of a Grosse Pointe Blank feel to it. Gabriel and Reg, our focal characters, are funny (especially sidekick Reg who experiments in this issue with the notion that we are addicted to sleep, and thus has stayed up for two straight weeks - oh, yeah, he's a hitman too), and the introduction to the story is exciting and intriguing enough that I'm extremely glad to have picked up the next three issues when I found this one. I'm hoping it completes, if not the story, then a story arc.

If you can track it down (the secondary market availability of self-published comics is a real problem, I think), this is worth your time. Great art, good characters, fast-paced and witty dialogue, and a story that sucks you in from page 1. I'll dig through the archive today and see what other self-published goodness I can find. Check out Mr. Johnson's blog. He's still working away at comics, which is lovely to see.

And I'll see you tomorrow.

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