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.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Go read: Holiday Season interviews by Tom Spurgeon!

See the links below for a truly impressive series of interviews that appeared over at The Comics Reporter during the festive season. Needless to say, this is well written, deeply insightful stuff that deserves your attention. Wonderful selection of creators to boot. Show some love.

CR Holiday Interview #1 -- Joe Casey
CR Holiday Interview #2 -- Karl Stevens
CR Holiday Interview #3 -- Matt Seneca
CR Holiday Interview #4 -- Matt Bors (art below)
CR Holiday Interview #5 -- Dustin Harbin
CR Holiday Interview #6 -- Peggy Burns
CR Holiday Interview #7 -- Zunar
CR Holiday Interview #8 -- Kiel Phegley
CR Holiday Interview #9 -- Jason T. Miles
CR Holiday Interview #10 -- Dylan Horrocks
CR Holiday Interview #11 -- Daren White
CR Holiday Interview #12 -- David Brothers
CR Holiday Interview #13 -- Andrew Farago
CR Holiday Interview #14 -- Kelly Sue DeConnick
CR Holiday Interview #15 -- Matt Gagnon
CR Holiday Interview #16 -- Dirk Deppey
CR Holiday Interview #17 -- James Sturm
CR Holiday Interview #18 -- Brigid Alverson
CR Holiday Interview #19 -- Daniel Clowes
CR Holiday Interview #20 -- Jaime Hernandez (art above)

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Best Comics of 2010

So, the inevitable end of year lists for 2010 are upon us.

It feels like it's been a lighter year for me comics wise, and it seems that increasingly, I'm more and more picky about what I like and what makes it to review here on Exquisite Things. Not everything I receive gets reviewed, and that's mainly because I need to feel a genuine connection with a book before I put pen to paper. Things don't always click for me, but when they do, I'll always do my best to give them the attention they deserve.

When I read a truly exceptional comic or book, or encounter something that moves me deeply, I believe these things become internalised. As readers, and as lovers of art, I feel we project much of our own lives and experiences onto what we read. They're as much a reflection of where we're at as people, as they are of the artists who create them.

I recently asked a cartoonist what he thought good comics should be, and to be perfectly frank I don't think there is a 'right' answer. It's a difficult questions to be sure, but remains a question I think we should all be asking. Personally, I feel that if we try to give as much of ourselves over to art, as artists gives of themselves in their work, then we're already much closer to appreciating what makes for truly good comics.

Here's what really got my blood pumping in 2010...

Matt D.

1. Big Questions #15 by Anders Nilsen (D&Q)
2. King City #1-12 by Brandon Graham (Image)
3. Alpha / MOA 192B by Stathis Tsemberlidis (Decadence Comics)
4. Untranslated #1-3 by Lando (Decadence Comics)
5. Bound & Gagged, by various ed. Tom Neely (I Will Destroy You)
6. Echew #2 by Robert Sergel (Sparkplug Comics)
7. The Heavy Hand by Chris C Cilla (Sparkplug Comics)
8. Good Minnesotan 4 by various, edited by Raighe Hogan (2D Cloud).
9. Acme Novelty Library 20 by Chris Ware (D&Q)
10. Planetary Vol 4. Spacetime Archeology by Warren Ellis & John Cassady (Wildstorm)

Kevin McCaighy

Not too many new things here, but its an accurate list of what's made me happiest in comics this year.

1. Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics)
2. Reich #6 and 7 by Elijah Brubaker (Sparkplug)
3. I Need Love by Aline Kominsky Crumb (MQP)
4. Schizophrenia by Vaughn Bode (Fantgraphics)
5. Pocket Full of Rain by Jason (Drawn & Quarterly)
6. One Model Nation by C. Allbritton Taylor & Jim Rugg (Image)
7. The Complete Crumb Comics Volume 3 by Robert Crumb (Fantagraphics)
8. H Day by Renee French (Picturebox)
9. Soba by Joe Sacco (Drawn & Quarterly)
10. The Land of Nod Treasury by Jay Stephens (Oni Press)