I plead the Fifth on whether or not I’ve ever done this myself, but there was a time when dropping acid and reading (or, more likely, just looking at) Jack Kirby comics was a popular pastime — and so it was only a matter of time, I suppose, before some enterprising cartoonist came along, eliminated the drug-dealing middleman, and just served up Kirby-esque tales with the “LSD effect” baked right into the pages.
Enter Kansas City’s William Cardini — although I honestly wonder whether or not he hails from a dimension much like the ones he draws, because I don’t know how you come up with some of this stuff without having seen it, perhaps even lived it, firsthand. Or, ya know, maybe he’s just got a good connection for hallucinogenics, in which case I really need him to give me a call.
My only previous exposure to Cardini’s singular psychedelic abstractions was in the pages of his B&W comics ‘zine Vortex, as well as a in a couple of anthologies, but he’s claimed a territory all his own in a fairly short period of time, and he plants his flag in it more firmly than ever in the pages of his new Retrofit/Big Planet solo anthology comic, Tales From The Hyperverse, a cosmos-shredding series of interlocked (at least thematically) stories that reduces Kirby-esque interplanetary/interdimensional clashes of absolutes to its barest elements, shakes them up kaleidoscopically, and dares you to figure out exactly what comes out the other end.
Which isn’t to say that complexity is a hallmark of any of Cardini’s comics, particularly Tales From The Hyperverse. On the contrary, this stuff is big, brash, bold, and about as subtle as a flying saucer crashing into your bathroom. And yet the imagery is so stark, so garish, so over-the-top that its raw primacy can knock you for a loop and cause the cynicism of most modern readers to kick in almost by default, the assumption being that surely there must be some larger point to, some hidden meaning buried within, all the sci-fi carnage on display.
After a few passes through the book, though, I’m entirely convinced that there isn’t — and I’m just as convinced that’s probably the best thing about it.
To be sure, Cardini has shifted the focus of his Hyperversal viewpoint, the good v. evil battles of Vortex giving way to a series of Lex Talionis predatory vignettes that show more or less every single living being in the universe as potential grist for an uncaring, unconcerned mill. There’s always someone or something bigger than the winner of the last struggle for survival, and as soon as they show up on the scene, that once- high-and-mighty victor is toast himself. Even Vortex‘s ostensible “hero,” MIIZZZARD, is just a link in this immutable chain, powerful only until something bigger and badder comes along.
Which may lead potential readers to believe that this must be rather a bleak and nihilistic comic, but Cardini’s art puts the lie to that idea right away with its basic, blocky shapes juxtaposed against tight-but-squiggly, often amazingly dense, linework, all shot through with amazingly gaudy jewel tones and rich blocks of bizarre “off-tone” shades. In short, this looks looks fun, even when nose-horned beasts and poison-oozing monstrosities are moving in for the kill, and has none of the juvenile edginess-for-its-own-sake (not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing) of its nearest contemporary counterpart, Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit.
Now, I’m sure all of this sounds like fertile ground for irony to flourish within, or at the very least one could intuit that it’s probably done with a knowing wink from artist to audience acknowledging the ridiculousness of his material, but here’s where that Kirby influence pays its most handsome dividends : Cardini is absolutely sincere in his storytelling, maybe even something like earnest. There’s no need to feel compassion or pity for the denizens of his Hyperverse because, hey, that’s the just the way things are — and besides, it makes for some. great (not to mention great-looking) storytelling. His main goal is simply to knock your socks off, plain and simple.
And guess what? If you’re willing to put aside your jaded preconceptions of what makes for “good,” “serious,” or “worthy” art, and if you’re willing to give the pernicious concept of “sophistication” the bullet to the head it that it so richly deserves, that’s exactly what Tales From The Hyperverse does.
Available for eight well-spent dollars at http://retrofit.storenvy.com/collections/29642-all-products/products/21180926-tales-from-the-hyperverse-by-william-cardini