“The Future Is An Open Mouth” — Or Should That Be An Open Question?

The best thing about this gig is that I get exposed to a lot of really personal, unusual, idiosyncratic work — comics and ‘zines that play by no rules other than those laid down by their creators, and even those can be arbitrarily broken if said creators feel like it. I’m talking about stuff that eschews codification, classification, sometimes even rationalization. But absolutely nothing I’ve encountered before could have prepared me for what was waiting in an oversized envelope that arrived in the mail from Denver-based cartoonist Dustin Holland the other day.

To call his self-published, magazine format comic The Future Is An Open Mouth “one of a kind” is to sell it short, because in truth it’s several things at once, none of them exactly new, but all of them coalescing into a singular visual and literary experience that propels the reader into frames of mind previously unknown and the artist immediately into the ranks of legit comics auteurs such as Samuel Benson, Alex Graham, Tana Oshima, Nathan Ward and others who, love ’em or hate ’em, produce work that that could in no way conceivably be said to fit into any category other than their own. Holland has apparently been slowly developing his futuristic (the year is 2695, to be precise) “Gorchverse” for some time, but as this was my first exposure to it, the experience for me was akin to being guided through genuinely alien territory by someone who’s been there before but still hasn’t necessarily limned out all of its highways, byways, contours, and contortions all that thoroughly. In other words, Holland’s the guy making this stuff up, sure, but the material seems to be leading him wherever it wants or needs to go.

Holland pays tribute to his various and sundry literary influences — Ballard, Dick, Delany — on his ‘zine’s inside back cover, and certainly there are any number of tributaries in his inventive take on the “heist perpetrated by fuck-ups” narrative that could conceivably lead back to them, but the torrential onslaught of concepts he’s tossing out page after page seem more to stem from the artist’s own id than anything or anywhere else, and that strikes me as being an excitingly disorganized place indeed. The characterization of our three principals Harmo, Eggs, and Sheena is broad-stroke but undeniably effective, and ditto for the plot, which has a definite dreamlike quality in that it makes perfect sense on the one hand, and absolutely none on the other, so to call it “confusing” wouldn’t exactly be true — at least up until the end, when all is absorbed into dadaist frenzy, but honestly that plays out as more a natural culmination that everything has been leading up to/into, and so I find myself loathe to apply the term even in that situation. Think of the narrative thrust here, then, as being one that could branch off in any number of directions, and ultimately settles on all of them. At once.

Discussing the art offers the jobbing critic another chance to begin with “where to begin?,” as Holland doesn’t so much juxtapose thick-lined, deliberately “sloppy” figure drawing with washed inks with minimalist backgrounds with collage as he stands back and allows them all to crash into each other before arranging them in nominally “coherent” ways. It’s some heady, mind-blowing cartooning, to be sure, but it works in the way that the most effective and sincere self-created visual languages do — which is to say, this world, this “Gorchverse,” can only look the way it does because, well, that’s the way it looks.

What prevents this comic from being a full-on sensory overload — at least until that’s what it does, in fact, become — is Holland’s wonderfully deadpan sense of humor and keen self-awareness. He’s making comics like nobody else makes comics, sure, but he knows it, and therefore isn’t going to kick the training wheels out from under you until it’s not so much safe as it is entirely appropriate to do so. For all its kaleidoscopic qualities, then, the book doesn’t completely shake things up until you’ve found some sort of semi-firm footing, at which point Holland takes what I can only describe as some kind of unmitigated joy in demonstrating that, nah, there really are no “safe spaces” to be had here. Entropy reigns supreme, as it is wont to do, but hey — pretending otherwise is a nice enough delusion to cling to for awhile.
I suppose that I could, at this point, drown you fine readers in superlatives aimed in Holland’s direction as I close this review out, but I think I’ve done plenty of that already, and besides — if any comic has “your mileage may vary” written all over it, then it’s surely this one. One thing, however, is absolutely certain — however far it takes you, at whatever speed, the ride will be one that you won’t soon forget.

*****************************************************************************************************************************The Future Is An Open Mouth is available for $8.00 from Dustin Holland’s Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/listing/1036347718/the-future-is-an-open-mouth?ref=shop_home_active_1&crt=1

Review wrist check – Farer Universal “Stanhope” riding a Hirsch “Arne” sailcloth effect strap in green.

2 thoughts on ““The Future Is An Open Mouth” — Or Should That Be An Open Question?

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