Saturday, 15 January 2011

Forever Changes - Chris C. Cilla's 'The Heavy Hand'

It's difficult to begin to evaluate Chris C. Cilla's 'The Heavy Hand' in any traditional sense, primarily because Cilla's first full length comic doesn't engage in the kind of linear storytelling you might have come to expect from your comics. This isn't a straight journey from A to B, but rather a hallucinatory tour de force through Cilla's own creative interior, an experience which is as disconcerting as it is rewarding.

Even if I forewarned you of the presence of killer pseudopods and immaculately conceived goats, it still wouldn't prepare you for the sheer oddness of Cilla's surreal allegorical fantasy world. The book is brimming with creative energy, packed to bursting with its own internal system of symbols and myths. Unlike so many of its comics brethren, 'The Heavy Hand' embraces a skewed feverish dream logic, spewing forth puzzle pieces that point towards some unfathomable truth just beyond the reader's grasp.

It's with an almost jarring intensity that Cilla goes about stripping away the artifice of modern life, cleaving pieces of reality until he arrives at the selfish, brutish heart of city living. Alvin, Cilla's less that likeable protagonist, fumbles his way through life with nothing but tall tales and lies to his name. Everything that comes out of Alvin's mouth amounts to little more than an work of elaborate fiction, cooked up on the fly to impress others. As Alvin hitch hikes his way to his new job as a research assistant in the depths of Honeypot Caverns, it soon becomes clear that this 'fresh start' also has its origins in the realms of fantasy. With a narrator as unreliable as Alvin, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction, and so, the boundaries between the two dissolve rather quickly.

Strange flights of fancy are therefore a given, and the many illusory escapades are a big part of the book's charm. Much like the lone patchwork donkey that wanders through Cilla's pages; an observer to acts of moral corruption, violence and hatred, Alvin finds that he too must venture down some strange paths to reach his final destination.

There's a strong theme of metamorphosis running through the comic, with the aforementioned patchwork donkey rising from its lowly station as a passive observer, to become the unlikely steed of 'the agent of death', a masked Zoro-esque bringer of the apocalypse. The donkey thus becomes a force for destruction, change and cleansing. It's very much a case of out with the old, in with the new. In fact, there are any number of metaphorical 'reset buttons' scattered throughout the book; from Alvin's simple act of cutting all ties and leaving town, to the subsequent floods and lethal exploding chickens.

It's perhaps telling that mid way through the book, a living, breathing goat casually emerges from an ornamental globe. The sudden arrival of the goat, with its age old symbolic ties to the deity Pan, points us in the direction of a purer, simpler existence, one imbued with a deeper sense of reverence and respect for the natural world. Perhaps, as the blurb on the reverse of 'The Heavy Hand' suggests, the goat has finally outpaced man in the evolutionary marathon.

For me, Cilla's comic speaks of change on any number of levels, but what you take away from 'The Heavy Hand' will depend entirely on how you choose to decode Cilla's wonderfully rich artistic vision.

Related Links:

Chris C. Cilla's Blog

Sparkplug Comics

Review by Matthew Dick.

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