I’ve been going back to Nathan Ward’s Warpwish Comix #1 (I checked, and no matter how the logo may appear to you, that is the cartoonist’s preferred spelling of the title) every week of two since he self-published it in magazine format (on old-school newsprint no less, hooray for that!) at the tail end of 2016, trying my level best to decipher it. To plumb its depths or, failing that, to at least limn the boundaries of its hermetically-sealed internal — well, not logic, but maybe ethos. To figure out both what was happening in it and why. Spoiler alert — it hasn’t been easy. And I’m pretty sure I’ve failed on all counts.
Indeed, all I can really be certain of, even after all this time, is that just because Ward is from Cleveland (where he’s been active in a number of punk bands over the years,in addition to pursuing his singularly dense-bordering-on-the-impenetrable cartooning), that doesn’t mean he necessarily hails from this planet — or even this dimension. In fact, I’m fairly convinced that he doesn’t.
On the surface, this is a collection short strips, but to call them “stories” would be to stretch the definition of that term well beyond its breaking point. There is no “beginning,” “middle,” or “end” to Ward’s vignettes — nor do they pick up en medias res and proceed to “go” anywhere — they just are. And since they don’t “start,” it can’t really be said that they “end” — they just stop. But that’s the least of the challenges awaiting prospective “readers” here — figuring out what you’re even looking at is a much bigger puzzle to solve.
Disease, decay, apocalypse, alien invaders, and skid-row scumbags are constantly-recurring themes or archetypes herein, and the “world” these strips are set in has all the aesthetic trappings of a fallen one, but beyond that? Shit, your guess is as good as mine. Cartoonists like Rory Hayes and S. Clay Wilson once represented some sort of “outer limit” to me, but Ward blows right by them with his oozing, intricately-detailed, obsessive, blubbery, amorphous, inherently defiant imagery. There’s no hyper-violence of the sort most of us crusty old underground readers are used to on display, but these proceedings are decidedly grotesque; there’s nothing explicitly sexual on offer, but this is undoubtedly perverse stuff; no explicit horror tropes are indulged in, but dread, foreboding, and deep existential terror drips from every richly-colored, meticulously-laid-out page. Is contradiction, then — perhaps simply for its own sake — the main through-line being pursued in this work?
Short answer — I honestly have no fucking clue. Even Henriette Valium’s intentions are easier to discern than Ward’s. He’s clearly emptying the entire contents of his no-doubt-fascinating subconscious onto the page, but that act of self-exorcism is so frenetic, so intense, so all-consuming that he simply doesn’t have time to hold your hand and explain shit to you. My own quest to find something akin to “meaning” here coming up woefully short, I think may at least have finally achieved/devolved toward the proper mindset one needs to be in if they want to harbor any hope of “getting” (as opposed to actually understanding) this comic, though, namely : I’m just going with it on its own terms (not that it presents you with any choice other than that, anyway) and judging it based on how it makes me feel.
So how does it make me feel — besides hopelessly perplexed? Scrambled. Disoriented. Amazed. Frightened. Transported. Transmogrified. Shell-shocked. Atomized. A hollowed-out shell of my former self.
No hyperbole here whatsoever : it took some time to work my way through it — fitful spurts that added up to countless hours — but I have come out the other end of Warpwish Comix #1 a different being than the one that entered it. Former concerns (chief among them making sense) now seem dated, prosaic, hopelessly quaint. I have been yanked up by my lapels to come face-to-face with raw, amoral, undeniable cosmic power — and found myself unable, even unworthy, to meet its gaze. This power has reduced me to my component molecules and dared me to re-constitute myself and find a way forward — and while the jury is still out on whether or not I can manage to pull that off, what cannot be denied is that this is the comic that broke me, and that in its aftermath nothing will ever be the same.
Five bucks is all it will cost you to fundamentally alter your view of existence. That’s a bargain any way you slice it, so get a Lincoln ready for Nathan Ward and order his comic at http://nwardcomics.storenvy.com/products/17307693-warpwish-comix-1