Another one I’m a little bit “late to the party” in terms of getting around to reviewing is cartoonist Kat Rose’s self-published 2016 mini Opal Fruit, a challenging, bemusing, sometimes bewildering 10-page assemblage of figure (for the most part) drawings that cleverly uses its own simplicity to obfuscate what appears, after multiple “read”-throughs, to actually be a tightly-structured “suite” designed to elicit a particular set of reactions and interpretations not unlike, say, Nick Thorburn’s much longer — though equally wordless — Penguins. There’s one key difference, though : whereas Thorburn’s constructs hew much closer to a linear start-to-finish “strip” configuration, this is a legit “free-for-all” that follows a rhythm, to be sure, but nothing so conventional as an actual structure.
That makes it perplexing at times, I’ll grant you, but it also means it’s never less than thoroughly intriguing and engrossing — provided you’re the sort who doesn’t mind embarking on a journey without any sort of map.
Certainly each of Rose’s drawings follows on, even builds upon, what preceded it, but at key points there are jarring breaks that that bear only oblique, or at the most thematic, connections to what came before, yet by the time all is said and done a central raison d’etre can be discerned, a through-line that sometimes runs in patterns, sometimes in circles, but always takes you someplace unexpected no matter which way you look at it. If you’re feeling ambitious, conservative, or both (and it’s not often those two words go together), a kind of “A to Z” sub-narrative is there to be plucked from the overflowing visual garden, but poring over the makeshift “sequence” of equally-makeshift “events” rather defeats the purpose of what it seems to me Rose is going for here — this is one to be flipped through quickly and in succession, the “tone poem” nature of the proceedings lending itself best to immediate and visceral impact, with the relationship the characters bear to, and sometimes on, one another coming into focus the more one is exposed to them. Rose doesn’t slow down the “action” here for anything — my best advice is that you follow that example.
This, then, is a highly experimental work — to put it mildly! — but it’s not one that completely eschews fairly firm understanding. It’ll take you though any number of twists, turns, bends, and forks in the road, but if you trust in your own abilities to the extent the artist clearly believes you’re capable of, you’ll not only find something remotely akin to a pleasant “outcome,” you’ll find that you aren’t even ready for it to “end” — hence the whole “go through it quickly, and many times over” piece of advice. At no time will readers be able to predict what the next page holds, but that’s no major concern when you’re still at least partially pre-occupied with what happened on the last one. The aesthetically denuded may call that “confusing,” but around these parts, we’re more partial to the term “exciting” — not least because, in this case, it’s exponentially more accurate.
That being said, yeah — your mileage may vary with this comic, and there’s no shame in that. For some, its impenetrable-at-first-glance lack of anything resembling a hard-and-fast “format” will simply be off-putting in the extreme. But if you’re happy to at least temporarily shelve most notions of what comics are or even should be? You’re in for a heck of a time.
And I should be clear — I mean a heck of a good time. This is a unique, perhaps even stream-of-consciousness, work of art, and while it counts on a reader’s willingness to go with its flow, and isn’t afraid to wash over you, never once does it subsume you, or make you feel as though you’re drowning. If anything, it’s a healthy breath of fresh, clean, and invigorating air.
Opal Fruit is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/opalfruit.html
Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so please take a minute to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse