The Circuitous — And Circular — Path Through The “Castle Of The Beast”

Ariel Cooper’s first self-published comic, Ghost Sickness, blew me away. Her second, Castle Of The Beast (sub-titled A Theory Of Time Travel) goes even further, shattering your view of the so-called “fourth dimension” and re-assembling it into something immediately and intrinsically familiar, but nevertheless altogether different. And I say this, mind you, as somebody who’s felt that the concept of time was complete bullshit pretty much since I was a teenager.

Linear time has been assaulted from every angle in the not-too-distant “past” — scientific treatises from Stephen Hawking, anarchist broadsides from John Zerzan, and 1,300-page literary masterworks from Alan Moore have all taken a crack at the foundations of its crumbling edifice — but Cooper is taking a different tack, presenting a work of art that makes you feel your way toward a better, deeper, and yes, more accurate understanding of the ultimately undefinable force that governs every aspect of our reality. Prepare to be challenged, yes — but not simply on intellectual level.

Of course, no universally-held “truth” stands a chance against Cooper’s sheer talent — employing everything from painstakingly-detailed graphite renderings to wistfully gorgeous watercolors (or digital approximations of their “look,” perhaps?) to expertly-applied colored pencils, her “toolbox” is loaded, as is her imagination, and she makes full and exquisite use of both, visually tying together her lyrically-expressed themes of intimacy, solitude, heartbreak, and the prison of time that holds them all affixed to certain spots in the “past” or “future,” purportedly never to be lived, to be experienced, ever again.

But what if it weren’t so cut-and-dried?

Of course, it’s not. The formative experiences that shaped us — as well as those yet to come — neither “go away” nor “have yet to happen.” We experience them in a kind of “order,” but sometimes things touch us on levels both subtle and profound and we are afforded direct glimpses into “past” and “future” — all while never leaving the impossible-to-quantify “present.” It’s confusing, sure — until you realize that it’s actually not.

Which may actually be the most confusing thing about it — how can we be so alienated from the true nature and character of existence? Animals don’t possess time consciousness, nor do infants — it has to be drilled into us, and how much of the full breadth and scope of what it means to truly live is lost when we enslave ourselves to the clock? Cooper doesn’t ask these questions in plain language — she asks them in visual language, emotional language, experiential language. She doesn’t bypass the intellect by any stretch of the imagination, but she engages with it by means of the eyes and heart, trusting that the mind will follow where they lead.

I’m running out of superlatives more surely than I’m running out of time, but Cooper is showing a genuine facility for producing singular and self-contained works that bear her inimitable stamp of authorship while exploring entirely distinct-unto-themselves themes. We’re spoiled with a wealth of promising emerging cartoonists right now, sure, but she’s immediately established herself as someone with ability to match her vision to match her ambition to match her intuition. To think that she’s just starting to tap into the wellspring of her creative (goddamnit, I’m just gonna say it) genius and will likely only get better from here?

That’s just plain staggering. As is Castle Of The Beast. This is an essential comics experience.


I don’t see it listed quite yet, but this comic will be available from Austin English’s Domino Books online store soon — and probably nowhere else. Ghost Sickness can also be ordered there. Here’s your link :

Also, this review, as well as all others on this site, is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. You can now join up for as little as a buck, and trust me when I say you get excellent value for your money. Please take a moment to check it out at


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