Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You Should Know I Love Indie Comics

I love all kinds of comics, I really do. But, if I had to choose, I dig the unexpected brilliant and epic things that happen quite often in top rate indie comics. These are the self-published creators, until they make it big, evolve and become established. One of the biggest, Paul Pope, rose from these ranks. As well as John Porcellino, to name another unique talent. Linda Barry. Craig Thompson. Molly Crabapple. Jordan Crane. Megan Kelso. Dash Shaw. Well, the list goes on and on. And what they tend to have in common is the fact that they have a vision and they follow it and usually they figure it all out on their own. They might belong to some cartoonist club but, in the end, it seems like they have a need to strike out on their own. Anyway, here is a review I did for Newsarama some time back when things were feeling mellow and free and the world was just fine. I was just in the right mood to write this:

The Deformitory is an Excellent Surreal Comic

February 16th, 2009

Author Henry Chamberlain
The Deformitory
by Sophia Wiedeman
48 pages, 4 3/4″ x 7″,$8

Are those claws on the girl on the cover of The Deformitory? No, far worse. And what’s a deformitory? Sophia Wiedeman takes us there in her book that recently won the Xeric grant, a source for self-publishing comics founded by Peter Laird, co-creator (with Kevin Eastman) of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Among Xeric grant winners, what sets Wiedeman within the sphere of rising stars is her agility as a storyteller, her willingness to tap into our common insecurities and turn them into fiction in refreshingly new and weird ways.

The book revolves around Delores, a Kafka-like city dweller stuck in the rut of working in an office. Instead of turning into a cockroach, her hands, overworked from typing, turn into claws, each literally with a mind of its own. These claws have faces and they can talk. With cute little eyes, they could pass for muppets.

Desperately lonely, Delores finds the bright side of things and instantly becomes friends with them, giving them names, Cornelius and Buster. It’s as if Kafa’s Gregor Samsa, upon awakening to find himself a cockroach, decides to enjoy being an insect.

Delores loves hanging out with her new friends, getting lost in conversation on the subway, buying three lattes when she used to buy only one. Wiedeman’s delicate line work helps to beautifully sustain the story and evokes vulnerability. It reminds me of the work of Gabrielle Bell who taps into the surreal quality of life in the big city.

But being a misfit is not all fun and games. If Delores thought she had problems before, her new claws have further ostracized her from her normal routine. They’ve taken control too as they guide her to The Deformitory, a secluded place where they suggest she can find peace. It looks like a tower out of a fable and functions as a condo for freaks. It also functions as a plot device that allows us to see other poor souls like Delores.

We get an overview of some of the tenants early in the book before we know who they are and it’s fun to see them as they weave their way through the story. There’s one subplot about a rivalry among mermaids which is very engaging. It speaks to the cruelty we all can easily inflict upon others and it’s done with a nice dose of dry wit. The slug at the end of this subplot, who bears the rejection from the ugliest of mermaids, returns home to the apartment she keeps with Delores. Both of them engage in some numb housemate pleasantries just as Delores leaves for a fateful date which will prove her undoing.

It is during this date that the claws, the seemingly innocent Cornelius and Buster, show their true colors by attacking the young man Delores is having dinner with. The power to this tale resides in what happens between Delores and her claws so much so that I could see taking the risk of just telling the story between the three of them and the few characters directly related to it. Paring down to the essentials would add to that Twilight Zone vibe in the main plot. Nevertheless, The Deformitory is a very satisfying read and demonstrates the handiwork of a sly writer.

This is my first review with Newsarama and I look forward to many more. I am a cartoonist and writer with an interest in literary and art comics and pop culture in general. If you’d like your comic considered for review, feel free to contact me.

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