The Abyss Gazes Back In Samuel Benson’s “Long Gone” #4

The comics of Iowa City’s Samuel Benson have always hovered near the edges of some fairly dark places, but in issue #4 of Long Gone, his venerable self-published series, there’s a shift that’s definitely both noticeable and consistent : the death of the self— be it the ego, the corporeal form, or both — is waiting for all of the protagonists in the four longer strips and two single-pages that make up the contents of this (as always with Benson) high-production-value ‘zine, with the rub being that it’s not always the worst outcome. Or even, for that matter, necessarily a bad one. We’re about to get a little philosophical here, so buckle up —

It’s a fallen world, and the evidence is all around us, so maybe escaping it isn’t such a crazy idea, amirite? None of us has any real idea what’s waiting for us on the so-called “other side,” though, so until somebody manages to make it back with some concrete, documented evidence, though, I think the most morally sound position to take is that anyone wishing to shuffle off from this mortal coil should be free to do so, but anyone who takes it upon themselves to punch someone else’s ticket for them is operating well outside the bounds of what most of us would consider, in a pinch, to be acceptable — and that’s what makes Benson’s latest comic such a challenge. His characters who meet a physical end are violently dispatched in most cases, either on purpose or due to grim accident (think mistaken identity), while another is just plain suckered into getting killed, and for the ones who are “merely” ushered into some new consciousness/reality, the process really isn’t much more pleasant on the whole. So we’re not talking, by and large, about folks who ever had much choice in the matter here. That being said —

As mentioned at the outset, the afterlife doesn’t turn out to be such a lousy place for all of them. The principal of “just rewards” is not an alien one in Benson’s stories — but it’s not something that’s applied across the board, either. Which means some of these strips are downright tragic, both in terms of their implications and in terms of what we see playing out on the page. A “feel-good” comic on the whole, then, this is not, and that tonal shift toward the bleak, the merciless, the unforgiving, may be upsetting at worst, surprising at best for long-time readers of this idiosyncratic cartoonist’s work. My question, though, is this : should it be?

I mean, these strips were written and drawn in 2020 and early 2021, and you don’t need me to remind you that things have felt fairly apocalyptic for most of that period. Being ensconced in the heartland, rather than along the coasts like many of his contemporaries toiling in this beleaguered medium, also means Benson has been subjected to a different attitude toward the pandemic than they have, one heavily tinged with the irrational, the unscientific, the conspiratorial — and all of that makes its presence felt in this ‘zine, as well. There’s a palpable aura of doom hanging over pretty much everything on offer here, it’s true, but what makes it sting all the more is that it’s a highly personal doom, not a societal one, and as such the consequences aren’t parceled out over entire populations. As a reader, then, you’re left with no choice but to absorb the impact as a series of successive, distinct body blows.

All of which, of course, makes this thing sound like no fun at all — but perversely, nothing could be further from the truth. Benson’s intricate, detailed, dare I say obsessive cartooning improves with each outing, this being no exception, and his absurdist worldview, while frighteningly consistent, isn’t necessarily bleak unless one actively chooses to interpret it as being so. In fact, in the right (likely chemically-induced) frame of mind, I could even see these strips being considered funny, at least by those who are in no way constitutionally pre-disposed toward moralistic self-righteousness. There’s a Ditko Mr. A book on the shelves of one of Benson’s hapless characters, and while this comic’s flirtations with mysticism and the supernatural would no doubt run afoul of Sturdy Steve’s unflinchingly rationalist worldview, a downright relentless commitment to speaking entirely through one’s art and subsequently leaving it to readers to decide solely, and entirely, for themselves whether or not the work resonates with them is something the two creators most definitely have in common.
Yes, then, this is unquestionably difficult material to process, to react to, and to evaluate — and that’s precisely why I think Benson is one of the most important cartoonist working today. His body of work consistently challenges audiences to meet it on its own terms, and offers no “easy outs.” It’s as dense conceptually as it is visually (and that’s very dense indeed — Benson jams each panel border to border with intensely-delineated people, places, and planes of existence), and has the uncanny ability to hit closer and closer to home the farther afield from consensus reality it goes. There’s no doubt this is his most thematically, narratively, and artistically daunting comic to date — and there’s no doubt that it’s his best, as well.

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Long Gone #4 is available for the ridiculously low price of $5.00 directly from Samuel Benson at https://longgonecomix.bigcartel.com/product/long-gone-4

Review wrist check – if it seems like I’m wearing my Formex “Reef” green dial/green bezel model a lot these days, well — that’s because I am. And if it seems like I’m wearing it on bracelet a lot, hey, guilty as charged there, as well. And why not? It’s as near a thing to a flawlessly-executed dive watch on the market today, and looks just as good with casual clothes as it does with business attire (not that I ever wear any of that). Pretty much a perfect timepiece.

3 thoughts on “The Abyss Gazes Back In Samuel Benson’s “Long Gone” #4

  1. Pingback: The Opaque Surface Begins To Clear – This Week’s Links - Avada Classic Shop

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