A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron : B. Mure’s “Methods Of Dyeing”

Some stories don’t “unfold” so much as they’re peeled back, each layer revealing another underneath, until the reader finally arrives at the core. Such is the case with the fourth installment in British cartoonist B. Mure’s “Ismyre” series of graphic novels, Methods Of Dyeing (Avery Hill, 2021), and while one could make a strong case that the title itself is both too clever and too obvious by half, given the narrative centers around an investigation of a murdered botanist/professor whose particular area of expertise is plant-based dyes, it’s just as accurate to say that most everything else on offer here is shrouded in a definite air of mystery.

It’s a mystery of a very — and, for the record, appealingly — singular nature, though : one that takes its time, isn’t afraid to savor its own richness, and gently takes the reader along for the ride. Certainly there’s enough by way of revelations going on for this to have been a fast-paced, suspenseful work, if that was the direction Mure had chosen to go, but the fact that it concerns itself instead with establishing its own tempo and temperament speaks to the confidence this cartoonist has in both their methodology and their fictitious de facto “universe.” It’s a comic that’s entirely comfortable in its own skin, immune to the pressures of trying to be what audiences could, at first glance, be forgiven for assuming it either should or must be.

Speaking of audiences, while it’s fair to say that some working knowledge of the world of Ismyre certainly doesn’t hurt going into this, it’s in no way necessary, and I daresay any newcomers are likely to be impressed enough by what they discover here to find themselves sufficiently motivated to track down previous volumes — but the laconic pacing and efficiently minimalist dialogue may require some getting used to on the part of so-called “newbies.” That’s certainly not a criticism by any means — a comic that demands you meet it on its own level is, after all, usually the best kind of comic there is (hell, some might say comics of that nature are the only type worth reading, and I’m not prepared to refute that opinion) — but it does mean that it’s incumbent upon Mure to roll out the red carpet and welcome folks in, metaphorically speaking. No need to fear on that score, though — this story may not propel itself forward in any traditional sense, but it does exert an inexorable pull, a siren call that one can’t help but feel compelled to follow, wherever it may lead.

It also doesn’t hurt that it’s so damn gorgeous to look at. Mure’s cartooning is soft, wistful, warm, welcoming, offering a compelling contrast to the violence at the center of the proceedings and the dread as our gender-norms-bending anthropomorphic animal investigator — who would seem to be hiding a few secrets of her own — works toward solving the case. The fluid strokes of Mure’s brush line and the lithe application of watercolors are enough to fool you into thinking Ismyre is a peaceful idyll of a village, but underneath those surfaces beats what is, at the very least, a semi-dark heart. This might be a perfectly fine comic to show kids, sure, but tonally and thematically, a “kids’ comic” it is not.

And yet, there’s a tangible sense of wonder that informs everything here that’s well and truly childlike in terms of its sheer infectiousness. Mure is clearly having a blast hooking us on the line and reeling us in, and even appears to take a certain amount of glee in yanking us subtly in the wrong direction on occasion. These are all familiar enough tropes that are being exploited, it’s true — but that’s what makes their nod-and-wink subversion so effective. This isn’t a comic out to re-write any rulebook, but to play against expectation precisely because you know the rules — and Mure knows that you know them. I promise that last sentence makes sense — or at least, it will once you’ve read this book.

Which, not to put too fine a point on it, should be your next move. Methods Of Dyeing is a quiet little marvel that fully immerses you in a world you won’t won’t to leave — even as it becomes clear that world is fraught with more peril than appearances would initially suggest. Granted, appearances can always be deceiving — but the spell that this comic casts on you is as real as it gets.

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Methods Of Dyeing is available from Avery Hill Publishing at https://averyhillpublishing.bigcartel.com/product/pre-order-methods-of-dyeing-by-b-mure

Also, this review — and all others around these parts — is “brought to you” by my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive 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

“So Buttons” #11 : — And Just Like That, All Is Right With The World

In art, as in life, timing is everything, and in that respect the release of issue #11 of Jonathan Baylis’ long-running autiobio anthology series, So Buttons (the first to be published in conjunction with Tinto Press), couldn’t be more — errr — timely, given that reminders that there really is a “normal” to return to (even if we’re not sure what that is yet) are very welcome indeed as so many of slowly emerge from our COVID-engendered bunkers. Granted, most of the contents of this ish were written and drawn smack-dab during some of the most dangerous and harrowing days of the pandemic, but it’s not strictly a “pandemic comic” per se. It’s referenced here and there — how could it not be? — but by and large this latest collection of stories is what we’ve come to expect from Baylis and his artistic cohorts, namely : fun, charming, occasionally informative, and sometimes even thought-provoking vignettes culled from the author’s life, tangentially related to it, or both. And talking of artistic cohorts —

As has become his custom, Baylis enlists a “murder’s row” of talented cartoonists to illustrate his ‘zine, beginning with Jim Rugg’s sublime Basil Wolverton homage cover and continuing through the interiors where we’re treated to the visual stylings of November Garcia, A.T. Pratt, B. Mure, Garrett Gilchrist, Andy Rash, Phil Elliott, T.J. Kirsch, Fred Hembeck, Jeff Zapata, Rick Parker (who provides letters on one story, art on another), Maria and Peter Hoey, Miss Lasko Gross, colorist Adam Walmsely and, last but certainly not least, one Lucas Eisenberg-Baylis, whose particular relation to our “host” will be readily apparent to even the newest readers of this series. Everyone brings their own look and style to the party, obviously, and while some of the artists are a more natural fit for Baylis’ relaxed, conversational approach to storytelling than others, it’s fair to say that there are no fish out of water here, and everyone turns in really nice-looking work.

So, yeah, we’re most definitely in “what’s not to love?” territory here, and that feels damn good. Sure, the dour might be able to advance an argument that stories about Scotch, Topps trading cards, John Cleese, Carol Channing, and early-’90s British comics might feel a bit “slight” under present circumstances, but art’s capacity to endure under even the most trying of conditions is one of the most remarkable things about it, and if you can’t get at least a little bit giddy at the thought of Fred Hembeck doing a pin-up featuring characters from the short-lived Topps “Kirbyverse,” then I’ve got no time for your cynical ass, anyway.

Which, in a very real sense, offers us a convenient segue into one of the best things not just about this issue, but about Baylis’ series in general : it’s utterly devoid of cynicism. It’s a comic about a guy who likes reading comics (among other hobbies and interests) that’s written by a guy who likes making comics with his friends, and whaddya know? They’re both the same guy. There’s a kind of, if you’ll forgive the term, purity to that approach that would stand out in today’s careerist-dominated comics landscape even if the stories on offer weren’t as uniformly enjoyable as they are — so the fact that they are is, as the saying goes, an awfully nice plus.

In more “big picture” terms, it’s probably inevitable that comparisons to earlier autobio trailblazers like Dennis Eichhorn and, of course, Harvey Pekar will persist for as long as Baylis adheres to making his comics in the way that he makes them, but I’ve noticed a marked decline in their frequency and volume over the years, and for good reason : Baylis has a singular authorial “voice” unique unto himself, and has lived and continues to live a life that’s plenty interesting on its own terms. Besides, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having your comic mentioned alongside the likes of American Splendor, and as the years go by Baylis has managed, by dint of his consistency and creativity (no, the two are not mutually exclusive), to transform this series from curious, maybe even derivative, upstart to a welcome annual guest in the homes and lives of its readers. You can only pull that off if you’re doing something that’s got plenty of brains and heart at its core.

As is likely to be painfully obvious by now, one of those readers who views this comic as a welcome annual guest in their home and life is yours truly, and after this past year and change, a new issue felt more welcome than ever. Barring any further calamity, our next meeting with Baylis and co. will likely be under more pleasant — or at least predictable — circumstances, but you know what? I feel safe in assuming in advance that it’ll be a “feel-good” occasion then, as well.

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So Buttons #11 is available for $5.00 from the Tinto Press website at https://tintopress.com/product/so-buttons-11/

Review wrist check – Yema “Navygraf Maxi Dial” on bracelet. Because classic never goes out of style.