I don’t even know where to begin. Seriously.
Of all the unusual and/or avant-garde comics I’ve reviewed over the years, this one may be the most unusual and/or avant-garde of the bunch, a 12-page slice of self-published singularity from Pitsburgh’s Samuel Ombiri that, sure, can be described, dissected, and discussed — but is really pushing my critical faculties to their limits in an attempt to do so adequately.
Notice I don’t say accurately, as this is one of those minis that there’s probably no “right” or “wrong” way to read — assuming your eyes can even handle the deliberately-obfuscated printing enough to read it at all. Yup, folks — you’ve gotta come into this one willing to put in some work.
That work is rewarded, fear not, as Ombiri is not only a skilled but a very smart cartoonist, but he’s out to challenge you at every turn with this book. No less an authority than our friend Austin English has compared Ombiri’s work to that of E.C. Segar — by no means bad company to be in, and a natural enough connection to make given that the characters in this comic wax and wane between discourse, debate, confrontation, physical altercation, and back again over the course of the elliptical conversation on matters theoretical, theological, suicidal, and entirely abstract over the course of the very funny conversation that makes up the bulk of the narrative here — but it’s E.C. Segar on a couple hits of bad acid plus plenty of coffee, a heady mix that can fool you, at times, into thinking you’ve hit some sort of comfortable groove, yet never completely loses the potential to veer into combustible territory at less than the drop of a hat.
If you came to relax, then, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Ombiri seems to do his level best to make this comic (hell, probably all his comics — see the scan reproduced from another one of his works altogether below) at least somewhat impenetrable, but he allows for a “way in” at all times, albeit one that’s got to be earned; the intellectually lazy or aesthetically un-ambitious will be tossing in the towel quickly here, and not without justification. I could even excuse putting it aside if you don’t fit either of those less-than-complimentary descriptors but simply don’t feel in the mood.
Still, one quick glance lets you know you’re in for something different with this book, the final six pages being obviously wider than the first six, the cover an intentionally-poor reproduction of an image of — shit, something. Points, then, for truth in advertising and packaging. But there’s a surprising amount of traditionalism at this comic’s core, as well, a dogged adherence to slapstick mores and morays that could almost be fairly said to mark this as a “throwback” work. It’s old wine in new bottles, and that contrast and conflict, that push and pull between polarities, lends the entire thing a formal and conceptual tension that makes it not just interesting, but downright exciting.
Still, this is most definitely “eye of the beholder” and “your mileage may vary” art in every single way imaginable. Slapdash on the one hand, yet strictly intentional and deliberate on the other, as disturbing as it is hysterical, expect to be feel alienated and charmed in equal measure, impressed and distressed simultaneously. Defying classification, categorization, at times even interpretation (depending on your eyesight more than anything else), Ombiri has created a work that no one else would, could, or should even attempt with this comic — which makes it a “must-read” item regardless of whether you end up liking it or not.
Nick’s Rainbow Pepsi Blood sells for $7 from — where else? — Domino Books. It can be ordered at http://dominobooks.org/nicksrainbow.html
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