Patreon Preview Week : “Gates Of Plasma” By Carlos Gonzalez

I did this last year, so I’m doing it again : in an effort to gin up interest in my Patreon site, I’m posting a selection of reviews that ran on there originally with the brazen goal being to get you, dear reader, to part with a buck (or more, if you wish) per month so that yours truly can find some level of intellectual justification for the sheer amount of time I put into cranking out so much comics criticism. Really, anything helps and is much appreciated. Next up, a fantastic book that Floating World Comics released in 2019 and seems to have largely floated under the radar —

Strictly speaking, there’s no reason that pioneering underground cartoonist, musician, and SOV filmmaker Carlos Gonzales isn’t on the so-called “A list” of contemporary artistic talents. I mean, whatever you’re looking for — fiercely-realized visions, a legitimately singular drawing style, a core set of existential concerns, an absolutely original “voice” — he’s got it. And furthermore, he’s had it for a long time. In fact, this guy’s work has inspired a number of others who have cited him as one of their favorite cartoonists of all time. Hell, no less a top-tier talent than Anya Davidson recently remarked to me that Gonzalez’ work is what convinced her that it would be possible for someone of her sensibilities to even make comics in the first place — and yet, aside from a small but committed cadre of exceptionally loyal fans who will gladly follow wherever he leads, he remains something of an unknown quantity to not just the larger comics-reading public, but even to the considerably smaller indie comics-reading public.

I think that’s largely due to the fact that he’s committed to his own artistic independence to a degree that’s certainly admirable, but not likely to garner him a ton of attention. He’s always been a prolific self-publisher, but only occasionally pops his head above water, so to speak, to make his presence known to the wider world, such as with his strip in Kramers Ergot 6, and that pattern holds true with his other creative endeavors : he distributes the music of his largely one-man project, Russian Tsarlag, via mail-order cassettes, and his “films” are, to my knowledge, only available on homemade VHS tapes. His longest comic to date, the 500-page Slime Freak, is strictly a “good luck if you can find it” item, and the same is true of his newest ongoing series, Everglide. In other words, he’s underground by  both default (there’s nothing remotely “commercial’ about any of this stuff, trust me) and, crucially, by choice.

I was, therefore, somewhat surprised to see that Gonzales agreed to let someone else — namely Floating World — publish his 320-page 2019 opus Gates Of Plasma, a sprawling-yet-conceptually-tight tale of truck drivers, alternate dimensions, asshole tech moguls, mayors-turned-DIY-porn-entrepreneurs, amateur-plastic surgeon UFO cultists, and mystically-powered ear wax — but was pleased to see that they still hewed very much to their auteur’s decidedly lo-fi aesthetic sensibilities with their formatting and presentation. The cover is simple B&W, the paper essentially cheap pulp stock, the entire package emitting distinct “just the way it should be” vibes. And yet —

In Gonzales’ world(s), nothing is really as it should be at all, and discovering and subsequently emerging into a view of life — indeed, of reality itself — as it’s meant to be and always has been is a running theme throughout his body of work, and one that’s expressed with incredible clarity and purpose in this book. Admittedly, the individual characters as I’ve just described them sound like a fairly disparate bunch, and so they are, but Gonzales is such a skilled plotter that from page one onwards one can’t help but feel the fates of these folks are in the hands of some cosmic chess grandmaster. If I were to mention that the core of said plot revolves around a conscripted cast performing a hitherto-unfinished stage play conceived of over a century ago by a woman whose life was altered by an alien visitation, things would probably sound even more confusing still, but I give you my critic’s word of honor that everything here flows with a kind of naturalist rhythm that would make even seasoned creators of comics poetry jealous. And yet at the same time, to draw a comparison to the comics mainstream, this is very much the sort of book that Grant Morrison spent the better part of 30 years trying to get exactly right before saying “fuck it” and going more or less all-in on superheroes instead. Gonzales, however, manages to make it look easy rather than belabored.

Which certainly isn’t the case, of course —  making comics is never easy, but sleight of hand is a  powerful weapon for any cartoonist to employ. For Gonzales, that ethos carries over into his artwork, as well, which gives off all the hallmarks of being “naive” art, maybe even “outsider” art, but underpinning it all is the distinct imprimatur of a guy who knows exactly what he’s doing. His sparse and economic linework, austere backgrounds, privileging of figures in profile, and insertion of frankly inexplicable collage elements all coalesce to form a unique and entirely apropos visual language no one else has ever thought of before or should ever attempt to mimic — this is a  story that really only works with this kind of art, and on the other side of the coin, this is art that just as surely only works for telling this kind of story.

Here’s the really surprising thing, though : I would recommend this book without a moment’s hesitation to any sort of reader. Yes, it’s even farther out than “far out,” and yes, it demands that you meet it on its own terms, but it’s a thoughtful, effective, entirely coherent meditation on losing and finding connection, on navigating one’s way through the universe, and on physical and spiritual transcendence set within an extremely accessible, even welcoming, sci-fi framework that makes even the highest of high weirdness feel more intriguing than threatening, more sincere than stupefying. If Philip K. Dick wasn’t so busy trying to impress you with his outre-ness, this is the kind of thing he might come up with on one of his better days.  I wish I’d read it when it first came out, as it would unquestionably have made my best-of-year-list for 2019, but as it is I’m happy to call it one of the very best comics of the last several years, and hope that the added distinction will more than make up for me bestowing it belatedly. Check it out for yourself at : https://floatingworldcomics.com/shop/comic-books/gates-of-plasma-by-carlos-gonzalez

Want more? Check out my Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

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