Falling somewhere between what we — or at least I — think of as an old-school underground mini and a Garo-esque “alternative” manga, Bryce Martin (who’s on a real roll this year, having produced five comics in 2020 by my count) has produced a uniquely curious item with his self-published Ultra8, a philosophical treatise on emerging and becoming told by means of a team-up between Japanese pop culture icons Ultraman (who, for the record, isn’t real) and Tadanori Yokoo (who, equally obviously, is).On paper, then — which is what this printed on, after all (and very nice paper, at that) — what we have here is at the very least a study in contrasts between a pair of incongruous figures, but in reality is more than that, in both theory and practice. Possibly even a lot more. But I’m not entirely sure what that “something more” consists of.
And you know what? That’s okay. In fact, it’s good. Comics that one can quickly get a handle on are just as quickly forgotten, even dispensed with, but Martin’s stuff really makes you think. His concerns are fairly narrow and fairly singular, but he finds a lot of real estate within them to explore not just what they mean to him, but what they mean in general. Answers are hard to come by within his experimental narratives, but the questions he poses bear serious consideration and analysis, and that’s the important thing.
To that end, here are the basics of the set-up for this one : an Ultraman stand-in gets thrown off a train and is duly challenged to keep up with legendary artist Yokoo, not just physically but conceptually — to “up his game,” as the saying goes, by becoming something more than a physical being. By becoming an idea. Which, of course, is precisely what Ultraman is anyway. So you see the challenge here — the contradiction, even. In fact, it’s both stark and inherently inexplicable all in one go.
Martin’s brisk, minimalist dialogue conveys this in a manner that glibly suggests it’s all less philosophically dense than it really is, which is both clever and populist, but it’s the choices Martin makes with his art that really underscore the multi-faceted approach he takes to his subject matter in a more general sense — employing a crisp line throughout, he leans on figure drawing that’s sharp and detailed for for one character (Ultraman) and ephemeral for another (Yokoo), and peppers both of them (as well as their extra-dimensional surroundings) liberally with what sure looks a lot like Zip-A-Tone, but is likely a digital approximation thereof. Then he oscillates between yellow and pink color schemes before finally introducing light blues when something like transcendence — or a bridge to it, at any rate — enters the fray. It’s all evocative as hell, but again — not necessarily in a way a reader can immediately put their finger on.
Comics don’t get much more subjective than this, then, nor does art in general, but for all that the trajectory here is pretty straightforward — even disarmingly so. Those of us who read a lot of “art comics” are used to feeling or intuiting our way through things, but you don’t really need to do that here — although I’d posit that doing so will lead to a much deeper and richer experience. Still, I suppose it’s nice to know that if you only want to spend a handful of minutes with something, Martin affords you the opportunity to do that with this work while still ensuring that you’ll walk away entertained and even temporarily transfixed, if ultimately somewhat befuddled. Again, though, we don’t mind “befuddled” around these parts, and you can just as easily spend hours poring over this comic and ultimately feel that way about it, as well.
By the time all is said and done, then — no matter how long a time we’re talking about — what we’re looking at here is auteur comics at their very best. Bryce Martin has created his own unique brand of visual narrative and proceeds accordingly, telling his story his way — with two characters that aren’t his, per se, but who he nevertheless very much makes his own and utilized for his own purposes.
Ultra8 is available for $5.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/ultra8.html
Review wrist check – Zodiac “Super Sea Wolf 68” in burnt orange.