Featuring a large ensemble cast of characters who rotate in and out and back again (including former president William Howard Taft), a deadpan sense of humor, and a series of set-ups that are clearly well planned but in no way feel belabored, it’s easy to be impressed by Miles MacDiarmid’s densely-packed Exit for its scope, audacity, and ingenuity, no question — but you’ll have to pardon me if all that, at least in this critic’s view, don’t mean shit if the art’s no good. And the art may just be the most striking feature of this comic.
I’ve come to expect no less from the Freak Comics publishing collective, who released this in late 2019, but even by the this outfit’s high standards, this is a really good-looking ‘zine. Starting with a cover that knocks you out with the sheer intricacy of its cross-hatched detail (I mean, it practically looks like a woodcut) and continuing through 20 pages of fine-line drawing replete with superbly well-chosen colors, this is a veritable feast for the eyes, and one could even be forgiven for giving it a thorough look-through prior to giving it a read-through. In fact, I may as well confess here that I did precisely that myself — and have continued to marvel at it on a near-daily basis since. I pride myself on being a bit of a “seen in all before” type, but this is a happy exception to that indeed.
That being said, comparisons to Simon Hanselmann’s Meg, Mog, and Owl stuff are probably going to be inevitable here, even if MacDiarmid’s characters aren’t uniformly lazy lowlifes, but that barely scratches the surface of what’s going on with this comic — in fact, I would argue that the two cartoonists almost take diametrically opposite approaches, with Hanselmann utilizing the outlandish to convey the absurdity of the mundane and MacDiarmid utilizing it to convey the mundanity of the absurd, but maybe that’s just splitting hairs. Still, there’s no arguing the fact that while the surroundings herein belie a sense of low-key normalcy, the “people” and creatures that populate this deliberately — even gleefully — bland world are themselves anything but.
Much of what transpires in this comic revolves around classic “double act” comedy, but MacDiarmid doesn’t confine himself to the paradigm too terribly tightly, inserting and removing a number of biological oddities for purposes ranging from good-natured foil to MacGuffin to vague antagonist to disposable one-off, and the result is a work that leaves you flabbergasted on the one hand, transfixed on the other. Comics where you can literally never predict what’s going to happen not only from one page to the next but from panel to panel are few and far between, it’s true, but that’s exactly what this is, and yet there’s nothing frenzied or hectic about the narrative flow and pacing of this book— indeed, the whole thing flows in a manner that honestly feels downright casual.
Which, for the record, is in no way meant as a slight — quite the reverse, in fact : the languid and nonchalant manner with which MacDiarmid is able to keep the turnstiles cranking in his story is actually quite the amazing thing to both behold while reading and ruminate over afterward, and for the life of me I still can’t figure out how he makes such an admittedly “busy” narrative seem so utterly, enviably relaxed. Everything here comes at you from out of left field, sure, but it all fits together in a really organic sort of way, as if “anything goes, even when nothing’s happening” is just sort of the natural natural way of the world — or of this world, at any rate.
All of which amounts to my roundabout way of saying “more, please, Mr. MacDiarmid.” You’ve created something here that’s the rarest of the rare : a closed system that’s entirely open-ended. This is a complete and self-contained story, absolutely, but it’s literally begging for a sequel — and so am I. Let’s hope that one is in the offing.
Exit is available for $15.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/exitmiles.html
Review wrist check – Longines “Legend Diver” riding an ostrich leg leather strap in washed copper from Lone Star Treasures. Don’t ask me where they come up with the names of some of these colors, all I know is they make damn good straps and sell them at a nice price.