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A review a day: Gestalt Comics!

Let’s check out another rattle bag of comics, this time from the wilds of Western Australia!

Recently I read Changing Ways by Justin Randall, which was quite good. At San Diego I met Randall and hung out at the Gestalt Comics booth for a while, and the boss man Wolfgang was nice enough to give me some of their stuff. So here they are!

The Example is by Tom Taylor and Colin Wilson, based on Taylor’s short play. It’s a tense psychological drama that doesn’t quite translate perfectly to comics form, but luckily Taylor has Wilson drawing it, which makes it worth a look. I think this would be quite good as a play, because a lot of the tension comes from the two characters speaking to each other, and it’s kind of hard to get changes in voice across in comics. Because, you know, no one’s actually speaking.

But it’s still a neat story. A man in a train station (Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, to be specific) gets grumpy because his train is late. He announces that he’s going to take a bus, and a woman sitting on a bench tells him that’s what “they” want him to do – her theory is that the train is ready to go, but they wait until someone gets fed up and leaves, thereby making him “the example” – see what happens when you suckers leave the station? So then Chris (the man) and Sam (the woman) see a different man leave, meaning the train will arrive soon. However, the man left his briefcase behind. Oh dear.

They begin speculating about whether the briefcase contains a bomb, which leads Chris to remember that the man wasn’t exactly white and wasn’t exactly dressed in business-like attire. Plus he had a beard. You can’t trust beardos, man! In only a few pages, Taylor manages to bring up so many hidden anxieties that white Westerners have and how this world has become a place where trust is a fragile thing. Chris and Sam debate whether they should turn the briefcase in or if they should just leave it, and they argue about their racism and what it says about them. It’s a clever device and Taylor does a nice job distilling the debate into a fine focus. The reason I think it would work better as a play is because good actors can add so much to the tension, and while Taylor does a decent job with the writing and Wilson does a fine job with the art, I imagine something is lost in the transfer to print. I could be wrong, though.

Wilson, as I mentioned, is very good, which isn’t a surprise. He basically has to draw two people on a train platform for 11 pages, so it’s going to be a tough sell, but he’s good enough to nail it. He does a nice job altering the camera angle to add some tension, and he continually drops in panels of the briefcase, sitting ominously in the middle of the platform. He and Taylor structure the book (they write about how they put together the book in the backmatter) so that there’s even a cliffhanger toward the end, which is kind of neat.

The Example is available now (it came out on 15 September), and for $1.95, it’s not a bad comic to check out. It’s also going to be included in a new collection of short stories about briefcases (yes, you read that right), so that should be neat.

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The other written by Taylor that I got is Rombies, which is drawn by Skye Ogden. I’m not sure if this is a one-shot or a preview for a longer series, but I don’t have too much to say about it. It’s a zombie comic set in ancient Rome. Gladiators kill other gladiators, who then turn into zombies. No one knows what’s going on. Taylor doesn’t do a whole lot with it, except for one unexpected moment at the end, but if you like zombies, I guess you’ll like this. Ogden’s art is actually pretty good – he’s like a slightly less cartoonish Mike Ploog, and he does a good job with the gore. But it’s a zombie comic. I’m sick of zombie comics, so it has to be something much more interesting than this for me to care.

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Digested is the other comic I received at the booth. Digested is written and drawn by Bobby.N, whose art reminds me of someone fairly famous in the indie comic scene but whose name currently escapes me. Three issues of this series have come out so far, and I’m not sure how many Mr. N has planned. The main story is called “Oxygen,” and each issue also has several shorts backing it up. “Oxygen” is actually a fairly creepy story so far. A man in a typical suburb waters what appears to be a semi-sentient plant, à la Little Shop of Horrors (although so far it doesn’t appear to feed on blood like Audrey II does). People next door wear gas masks. In a flashback, we see that he himself had to wear a gas mask at some point. Why? Well, that’s the mystery, ain’t it? The story moves slowly (considering that it takes Bobby.N a while to complete an issue and he doesn’t use the entire issue to tell that story; issue #3′s chapter is four pages long, for instance), but it’s tantalizing and weird.

The short stories vary in quality, of course. There’s a story of a man on a first date with a woman he assumes is rather bland until we get to the punchline, which is pretty funny. There’s a cool tale of a boy and his father and how the father tried to turn the boy into a man. There’s a weirdly poignant story about a stuffed bear who gets sick of the annoying girl who showers him with love. There’s a story about corporate culture that is humorous but feels made up, even though Bobby.N insists it’s true. But it does a nice job showing the weird bureaucracy that exists in an office (although either the protagonist should have been paid overtime or he could tell the boss to take it up with HR, because that’s how things are done in business). There’s also a long interview between Bobby.N and another comic book creator that’s pretty interesting, plus a Q & A with a novelist in issue #3. These issues have quite a bit of content for being so short.

Bobby.N is a big fan of Dave Sim, which is interesting because a letter-writer in issue #3 tells him he’s a “bit of a misogynist.” That’s a weird criticism, because the fan doesn’t offer any examples (unless Bobby.N left them out), and I don’t see it. Yes, there’s a story about a break-up, but it’s a story about a break-up – the guy’s a bit bitter, but it’s not like he’s wildly anti-woman, he’s just angry that she’s moved on and then relieved that it’s over. The other stories that feature women simply show them in various, fairly neutral situations. I’m not entirely sure why the letter-writer called the stories anti-woman, but it seems to be reaching. Maybe the guy just didn’t like that Bobby.N is a fan of Sim. Who knows?

You can check out Gestalt’s web site if you want to pick up any of these books. I honestly don’t know how much they cost, as the prices are not printed on the actual books. I only know what Previews said The Example cost, but it doesn’t have a price on it. I would skip Rombies, but the other two comics are pretty intriguing.

Tomorrow: We need more comics about popes!

5 Comments

Bobby N. seems to have an amalgamated style of Daniel Clowes and Peter Bagge.

Great stuff Greg! All Gestalt’s stuff is diverse and entertaining I reckon, especially for a small publisher. Rombies will be an ongoing BTW, with the same creative team.

I believe the influence of Bobby N.’s you’re looking for is Dave Cooper?

Mad Monkey: Yeah, that’s not a bad comparison. DudeAbides: I had never heard of Cooper until you mentioned him, but a quick Google search shows that it’s not dissimilar. But he wasn’t who I was thinking of, because I didn’t know him!

Kris: That’s good to know about Rombies. At least if it’s ongoing, Taylor can do a bit more with the concept.

That cover with Flinders St Station makes me slightly homesick for Oz, until I remember in reality it’s not that serene, beautiful, nor clean. Ah, the transformative powers of art… ;)

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