“There is another world. There is a better world,” Grant Morrison famously informed us (in a scene that still coaxes a tear from my eye every time) in the final issue of his celebrated Doom Patrol run, before qualifying things by stating, “Well — there must be.” But what if there isn’t?
The “city slicker” couple at the center of cartoonist Mike Freiheit’s new graphic novel, Woods, moved to a remote cabin hoping to find that better world after the election of a certain unnamed right-wing demagogue helped engender a complete mental breakdown in one of them, but they soon discovered that going “off the grid” looks a lot easier on YouTube videos than it actually is in real life.
That being said, Freiheit — who self-financed and self-published a limited edition of this book in preparation for SPX (I’ve swiped a couple images off his facebook, which hopefully won’t upset him too much, in order to show how much sheer effort he put into this thing) — doesn’t concentrate too heavily on the “survivalist” aspect of his story, focusing instead on the thin and fraying line between (dark) fantasy and reality in a troubled mind, albeit one that’s troubled for entirely understandable reasons and may not even be so troubled after all at the end of the day.
If that sentence makes no sense to you, rest assured — the comic will.
As far as horror yarns go, then, this is as topical as they come — and as eminently relatable. You get where these people are coming from because you know these people — you may even be these people. Their desires, motivations, aims, and problems all hit home. Their struggles are our struggles, their quiet triumphs and less-than-quiet tragedies not so much “ripped from the headlines” as ripped from the stories that will never make the headlines. Two people who want nothing more than to outrun an encroaching darkness from which there never really was any escape.
And while we’re on the subject of darkness — Freiheit saturates his images with black tones that evoke Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist and accentuates them with graphite-smudge grays that bring to mind criminally underappreciated UK cartoonist Carol Swain. This feels like a terrifying story, but even more importantly looks like one — and it represents a quantum leap outside his comfort zone for a guy who’s best known for poignantly self-deprecating autobio work. Much as I loved Monkey Chef — and love it I surely did — this is a beast of an entirely different sort, and demonstrates a visual and narrative versatility that frankly wasn’t even hinted at in the past. if you think you know what to expect from a Mike Freiheit comic, think again — and then think yet again after that.
It shouldn’t be too difficult a task, because this book excels at making you think. About where we are as a society, how we got here, how or even if we can possibly get out. It offers no easy answers, but hell — these aren’t easy questions. They are, however, essential ones.
And Woods is, dare I say, an essential read.
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