I don’t know anything about cartoonist Brian Beaver, but so what? Maybe the contents of his recent self-published comics ‘zine From Beneath tell me all that I actually need to know.
“Let your work speak for itself,” they’ll tell you in art school (I think, at any rate, never having actually attended it myself), and Beaver certainly takes that advice to heart, as literally no one else speaks at all — and by “no one,” I mean any of his cast of characters, be they insectoid-lensed secret agents of unknown origin, or demonic intergalactic/interdimensional monsters of even more unknown origin — but that’s okay at the beginning, downright great by the time things really get going, and flat-out inspired when all said and done. In fact, dialogue or captions would really just get in the way here.
Beaver’s linework is stunning in terms of its detail and fluidity, and his intuitive visual storytelling sense is cinematic to the core — he takes in every facet of his scenes, giving us the big bombast and the small asides in equal measure, his “set pieces” clearly entirely thought through from top to bottom. This leads to a very unique, even downright individualist, style of how to approach what we’ll call for lack of a better term “blockbuster”-style storytelling, and if I had to pull some kind of comparison out of a hat I’d say it feels very much like Sean Baker directing a John Carpenter script — or maybe vice versa.
While sci-fi trappings are at the forefront here, then, it’s scaled down to a human level — the perspective is such that our protagonists serve very much as our eyes and ears (okay, eyes only), and when things look big it’s because they legitimately are big, and when things look weird and mysterious (as they often do in this book, trust me), it’s because they legitimately are weird and mysterious. Without verbal language to fall back on, Beaver’s command of purely visual language is called upon to do considerably more than just guide us through the action — it’s called upon to establish tone and mood as it explicates plot and characterization concurrently, and so it becomes the prime conduit of both fact and feeling at the same time. It’s no easy task, that’s for sure, and in lesser hands it could even be considered something of a gimmicky conceit, but for someone with a genuinely auteur approach to sequential art and narrative — as Beaver clearly has — then it not only does the job, it firmly establishes itself as the only way to do the job.
There’s a bit of a classic, old-school approach going on here, as well, which is nice — Beaver obviously understands the tropes he’s utilizing intimately and draws upon that knowledge to put the emphasis where it needs to be and draw the eye where it needs to go, which is more often than not to the heart of the action, but at crucial junctures to the side, to the margins, even to the background. It’s pretty damn masterful, all things considered, and the same is true of his figure drawings and spectacular character designs, which never fail to impress at the least, but frequently surpass that and flat-out amaze.
If you want something both familiar and decidedly different, then, this is without question the comic for you. It re-writes rules we know so well in entirely unexpected ways while remaining true to them at the same time, making it a work that’s both instantly recognizable and tantalizingly alien.
From Beneath is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/frombeneath.html
Review wrist check – I broke out the Ocean Crawler “Paladino WaveMaker” green dial model today, riding Ocean Crawler’s own “Vintage Crazy Horse” leather strap, which dresses it up just a notch from the orange rubber strap it comes on, but still looks good with a pair of jeans or even shorts.