It’s a pretty cool thing, when you think about it : making comics like nobody else is making. And it’s especially cool to do it within a framework that’s about as tried and true as it gets.
All of which is me letting you know that the (extremely) short-form stories presented in Johan Broadley’s 2016 Le Dernier Cri book, Wild For Adventure, are both deliciously weird — and strangely mundane. We know this world he portrays — we’ve just never had it shown to us like this before. So yes, at first glance these are every bit the vaguely traditional gag strips they appear to be — until they’re not. And there’s always one or two off-kilter things in each that are guaranteed to shake your perceptions just a bit. I’m reminded, crazy as this may sound, of the so-called “creepy crawls” the Manson family used to engage in, wherein they would enter somebody’s house or apartment and move everything by a couple of inches forward or back, to the right or the left. When the person who lived there would get home, their equilibrium would be off by just enough — but never enough to make them consciously aware of what was wrong. B&E aside, you’ve gotta admit — that’s a pretty ingenious way to alter somebody’s entire friggin’ world.
And if there’s one thing Broadley is playing at here, it’s the altering of perceptions — at first glance, for instance, you could be forgiven for thinking we were in Michael Kupperman-esque territory here in a general sense, but that only lasts for a few pages after opening this pocket-sized volume’s silk screen cover to view its rich offset-printed pages. Not only is Broadley’s art far more fluid and way less photo-referenced than Kupperman’s, it’s utilized to entirely different effect. Yeah, Broadley wants you to laugh — and succeeds in getting you to do so — but he’s also out to subvert both expectation and form. The predictable never proves to be so; the established exists only to demonstrate that nothing really is. And if it seems like I’m being vague, I assure you — that’s entirely by design. To give anything about this book away is almost to give away too much.
Certainly, the quality of the cartooning here is above reproach — Broadley has all the basics mastered, and infuses everything with a kind of deadpan personality that takes you off guard even as it quietly dazzles with its sheer technical prowess. His linework is crisp, his textures and shading borderline-elegant, his composition impressive without drawing undue attention to itself. And yet there’s an undercurrent of ingenuity to it all that’s difficult to place until you realize that it’s deployed just as successfully in service of the absurd as it is in service of the everyday — and when the two combine in a given panel (every page being a single-panel illustration), the results are more than a bit magic : as if a quick injection of the bizarre was what was missing all along, and everything and everyone was clearing the way for it in advance. Think of a long-lost relative coming home for dinner — only to discover a place had been set for them the whole time.
Perhaps I’m straining for metaphors here, but that’s only because something singular can occasionally be singularly difficult to describe. Even when it feels like it shouldn’t be. Fortunately, Broadley dispenses with any and all notions of what “should” or “shouldn’t” happen in one of his strips almost immediately, and just keeps going from there.
“Going where?” is, of course, the next natural question, but again the answer is not an easy one — in a pinch, I’d say “to where we’ve been all along,” but that only holds true if we knew where we were in the first place. In a John Broadley comic, nothing is more elusive than certainty, but that doesn’t mean we’re lost — only that anything can happen anywhere and at any time, no matter how pedestrian a set of circumstances may appear.
Wild For Adventure is available for $12.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/wildadventure.html
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