Oh Lord, this takes me back.
Right back to the Seattle Scene days.
Hello there, Bloggers; recently I got a couple PDFs in the old email from an enterprising young chap (very enterprising, to have got down as far on the review chain as where I am!) named Dave Chisholm.
Here’s his web site.
Anyway he’s sent me a couple chapters of his comic “Let’s Go To Utah!” to review, and I’m happy to do so.
Oh, why am I so happy?
Because I liked it.
I liked it a lot.
You can tell that our pal Dave is no stranger to comics, and the comics storytelling form: because if there’s anything this doesn’t read like, it’s a copy of something other than comics. It’s remarkable, really, if you think about it: so many of our straight comics narratives these days are so soaked in movie-ness that they sometimes seem directly transposed into print form from somebody’s DVD collection…or at least from somebody’s old pile of unfinished screenplays. But where comics approach realism, it’s necessarily of a different species than filmic realism, isn’t it? Mostly, I think, it is…because in real life things sometimes just happen, they sometimes just fall on you out of a clear blue sky, as often as not situations simply are; and in film it’s hard to escape a certain flavour of intentionality, that colours events. I think I’ve talked about this before, the gloom of premonition that hangs over a typical movie…every dream a prolepsis, every stick of furniture a foreshadowing, every character a symbol, at least partly…and often, it’s what makes movies as good as they can be…
It doesn’t happen here, though. Dave includes several nods to it — right down to the interrogation-room flashbacks, hah! — but Utah, at least so far, has a bit too much of randomness in it not to escape the emulation of film for something more open-ended. Something — in my opinion — greater.
Its own kind of story.
The antagonistic figure of Leif has a brief soliloquy about movies in Chapter One — yammering on about how AWESOME the movies of the Sixties and Seventies were in something of the manner of a psychotic Tarantino — that casually subverts the idea that a movie represents the acme of story, or of realism. It just isn’t so: although our protagonist is very clearly trapped in a set of “badass” movie cliches from the moment Utah begins, it’s equally clear that this isn’t a movie, this is real life…and therefore the troublesome meanings to be chased down are only burdened with cliche, not revealed through them, or even merely at play in their fields. Utah has nothing to do with sucking its reader in through duplicating filmed qualities of light, clarity, colour, heat, texture, transition, caesura…a sort of visual “transparency”, if you will, a clear-aired approach that allows the crafter of tensions to foreground what he wishes in high, high definition, as it were physically right next to the viewer…but instead the wonderful inkiness of Mr. Chisholm’s story makes everything part of a swirling pool of black, all the textures ink, the sky ink, the people ink, the road and the car ink…even, what people say is ink, lying heavy and liquid and black on the page, under the thumb…instead of raspy and rhythmic and cadenced against the eardrum, the music of the movements of the figures on-screen. It’s a different sort of juxtapostion entirely, you see: it’s got real tactility in it. And thus you may be sucked in, but you’re never sucked in to the point where you’re transported out of the comic, transported out of the true sense of reading and into the false sense of experiencing…because this is an entirely different kind of sight you’re being given, here. An entirely different method of participating in what comes before your eyes.
And damn, that’s refreshing.
In fact I’ve really missed it.
This is a short review. About Dave’s layouts I won’t say much: just that they’re again obviously the work of someone who knows a thing or two about making an interesting page. And there are some real hammer-blows in here, too — sight, sight, it all comes down to sight, and a way of seeing: from the moment Dave looks up at us in the interrogation room, through the speechifying in the car and the incident at the diner, and out even into the wilderness, it’s always the sense of a sight going unrecorded that is gripping, here: unposed and un-planned-out action, things you don’t want to see but do (and yet don’t), and in the last panel of the last page Dave’s sent me, the fantastic effect of a smudged-out square of raw black ink where sight becomes occluded. What comics can do, that film can’t: in a film this would’ve been empty frames whipping through a projector, something trite and transitory, light and some snappy, jolting noises — here, it’s a gloppy spill with fingerprints in it, silent and solid. No cameras, please. No privileged viewpoints, thank you. Just a matter of memory.
I won’t lie: this is a story that, if someone just spoke it out loud to you as a pitch, you would naturally “see” as a movie in your head. It is indeed very movie-like, as a high concept, and in that it’s nothing too, too special. Actually reading it is quite a different matter, however.
And I’m hooked.
So, bravo, Dave — and keep those PDFs coming, man!
I’ll be right here waiting, reading my Dennis Eichhorn comics and drinking my fancy latte.
Or maybe I should say, I’ll be reading my old copies of Black Hole, and sipping on a Ballard Bitter?
Tell you what, I’ll pour the coffee into the beer…!