It’s not too terribly often that I come across a comic that I don’t necessarily feel all that qualified to opine on, but I may have found one here — or, rather, one my have found me, given that cartoonist Vickie Smalls submitted the new nightmarish (a term I use with precision) horror mini Queen Of Knives, released under the auspices of his own Nowhere Comix imprint, himself, probably knowing full well that it falls well outside my usual stylistic wheelhouse. Points, then, for bravery on Smalls’ part on the one hand, and for giving this critic a good, solid nudge outside the old comfort zone on the other. They do say, don’t they, that steps outside the nest are good for a person from time to time? With that in mind, then, let’s get down to brass tacks as I attempt to define what’s different about this book —
If forced to put my finger on it, I’d say it all boils down to methodology : I’m a bit of a relic, stuck in the old pencil/brush/pen way of doing things, while Smalls is very much an artist of the here and the now, utilizing things like computerized lettering fonts and digitally-inserted background patterning that, if I’m being honest, tend to take me out of a comic to one degree or another. Which doesn’t mean this is a poorly-done example of the type of comic it is by any means, only that the type of comic it is really doesn’t conform to my individual sensibilities as a reader. Not that it’s obligated to, mind you — it’s not art’s job to meet you on your level, but to sufficiently light a fire under your ass so that you feel compelled to meet it on its level. And in that respect, this is a work that makes some of the necessary moves in that direction.
Transcribed both narratively and visually from one of Smalls’ recurring nightmares, which sees him assume the role of a little girl stuck in a haunted castle whose heart is about to be eaten by a Cruella De Ville-esque wicked queen (of knives), the requisite otherworldly quality necessary to pull something such as this off is certainly present and accounted for — events proceed in vaguely linear fashion, and are “easy” (if that’s the term we want to use) enough to follow, but nothing on offer is at all logical, despite the fact that it makes plenty of internally-coherent “sense.” It seems to me that this is a pretty fair approximation of how dreams — both good and bad — operate, and certainly no one would argue that this is a “dull” comic. Hell, it’s downright interesting in the way that being exposed to the flotsam and jetsam of another person’s subconscious frequently is : far-out place to visit, wouldn’t want to stay and all that. Throw in a pleasing middle-finger-to-conformity vibe that runs throughout, and all in all I can’t you you won’t have a pleasant enough time being exposed to all this unrepentant unpleasantness.
But it does look and feel more than a bit inorganic, mechanical, and for me that’s just a hump I have a tough time getting over/beyond/past/whatever. Again, this really isn’t a reflection on the work itself, which for all I know could be a top-notch representation of this particular type of comics creation — it’s just a matter of personal preference and, since this is my blog, a point of personal privilege. What I do feel confident enough to say is that if this kind of “new school” approach is to your liking, then this is a comic that you’ll probably like quite a bit.
And the story, in case I’m not being clear enough about this, grabbed me just fine. The bones I have to pick (maybe not the best choice of words when it comes to a comic that flirts with cannibalistic themes and imagery?) here are purely aesthetic and, of course, entirely subjective. The art samples included with this review should be more than enough to let you form an opinion as to whether or not this looks like your kind of thing, and if it is, then I really can’t think of any reason why you shouldn’t buy it. A fair amount of heart went into making it, that much is obvious, even if our erstwhile heroine is without one by the time all is said and done.
Anyway, what the hell do I know? I guess the answer to that depends on who you ask. I’m glad Smalls asked me for my opinion — I just wish that I had a firmer grasp on what that opinion was after I finished reading this comic.
Queen Of Knives is available for $5.00 from the Nowhere Comix Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/shop/Nowherecomix?ref=simple-shop-header-name&listing_id=1192067017
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