A Multiverse Unto Itself : Scott Finch’s “The Domesticated Afterlife”

There is absolutely nothing about Baton Rouge-based cartoonist Scott Finch’s new long-form graphic novel, The Domesticated Afterlife, that can be compared to much else : at the margins, I suppose, it could be argued that it explores similar thematic territory to that mapped out by anarchist philosophers such as Jacques Camatte, John Zerzan, and Fredy Perlman (to name just a few), all of whom have espoused variations on the idea that domestication is inherently immoral and that the relative security offered by civilization is in no way worth the price paid given how much richness, vitality, and even meaning is lost when life distances itself from wild nature; and sure, the use of anthropomorphized animals to comment upon issues in the human world is nearly as old as comics itself, but honestly — Finch can’t be fairly said to be following tradition here, or to be marching to the beat of any drum other than his own.

Case in point : you’ve actually gotta dig deep for corollaries to human beings in this work, as it really is about what it purports to be right on the surface, namely the existential impoverishment suffered by domesticated animals. It’s only at all applicable to us if one accepts the aforementioned Mr. Zerzan’s axiom that “by domesticating plants and animals, man necessarily domesticated himself.” Absolutist as that statement no doubt is, as a matter of pure logic there’s no effective counter to it as far as I can tell, so I suppose it’s a truism almost by default, but really — people aren’t Finch’s primary, secondary, or even tertiary concern here. Rather, what he’s crafted — with an amount of care so great it borders on the meticulous — is a narratively and visually lyrical paean to the ultimately unsolvable mystery that is life itself.

Which means he’s issued both himself and his sprawling animal ensemble a pretty stiff challenge : every line of dialogue, every pen and brush stroke, has to do more than simply “register” with readers, it has to resonate with them. After all, when you’re going about the business of crafting not just one mythology but several, of limning the contours of an eschatology not only rooted in the purely speculative (or at least inferential) but also in the demonstrable and provable, it’s fair to say you’re likely attempting something art in general doesn’t try very often, the comics medium even less often. Finch leaves himself with only one option, then, but fortunately its one that’s entirely wide open : he must create his world (okay, worlds, plural) his way.

He doesn’t “merely settle” for that, though — no, Finch creates a multitude of worlds, of myths, of cosmologies, each in service of an overarching set of thematic concerns, yet also functioning as a discrete entity unto itself. There are no “vignettes” to be had here in the strictest sense of the term, no narrative “asides,” but there are likewise no two intersecting threads that are alike. This is many stories and one story, a “sum of its parts” affair and an entirely cohesive, holistic, “big picture” treatise. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen, but everything you’ve always hoped to.

The heady praise is flowing freely here, I’ll be the first to admit, but just have a gander at the sample pages included with this review and tell me it doesn’t look entirely earned. Finch’s masterful utilization not just of blacks and whites but of gray tones is a joy to behold, and each panel both invites and rewards close scrutiny — not only of the images in and of themselves, but for the implications communicated by them within the broader scope of the work as a whole. In an ideal world, every work of art would be suffuse with this kind of fully-realized potential, but this particular work of art well and truly needs to be given that the chasm between ideals and reality is such a core concern of the book itself. Finch isn’t content to simply explore how things could and should be from the point of view of various and sundry animal species, he takes it upon himself to go the extra mile and show what that means — both on the page and by dint of the effort that goes into what we see on the page.
I could go on, And on. And on. And honestly, I found myself wishing this book would do precisely that almost immediately upon opening it. Publisher Antenna (a Louisiana regional arts non-profit) is to be commended for the job they did with publication design and presentation on this one — it’s one of the few comics with a horizontal orientation that really makes use of the unique possibilities afforded by that format — but in the final analysis, of course, it’s all about presenting work worthy of such exacting publication standards, about offering the reader a work of art that that deftly navigates the give-and-take balancing act that always exists between vision and execution. With Finch, there seems to be no separation between the two, his imagination and ability functioning not in unison with one another, but as a singular conjoined force. The end result isn’t just one of the best comics of the year, it’s well and truly one of the best comics I’ve read in my entire life.

***********************************************************************

The Domesticated Afterlife is available for $18 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/domesticatedafterlife.html

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclsuive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the world of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. Subscribing is the best way to support my continuing work, so I’d be very appreciative if you’d take a moment to give it a look by directing your kind attention to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

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