Here’s the thing about Seattle cartoonist Kalen Knowles — yes, his stuff is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. And yes, some of it’s admirably and astonishingly weird. Anyone even mildly familiar with his work knows these things. What’s less remarked upon, though, at least as far as I can tell, is how — dare I invoke the term — heartwarming a whole lot of it is.
He’s also well-attuned to the perspective of the genuine outcast and outsider, the person (or, more often, creature) who simply doesn’t fit in, who stands apart, whose individuality can’t really be subsumed under layers of “going along to get along” deliberate obfuscation. Combine that sympathetic understanding with that penchant for the — again with the dread word — heartwarming, and the results can be pretty special, indeed. Example number one of this was Journal, the innovatively-told story of Atticus the squid boy previously reviewed on this very site, and example two is Space Egg, another yellow-covered mini lavishly riso-printed by Paper Punch Press (in, I believe, late 2015) that mashes up familiar sci-fi tropes, anthropomorphic animals, and mind-swapping technobabble to produce a story quite unlike anything else. In fact, more than one of them, as there are “back-up strips” included, as well.
Don’t let the fact that this one’s a collaboration with Justin Quinlan (I’ve got to track down more of his work!) fool you, the “high weirdness” we see in other Knowles projects is still present and accounted for here — maybe even accentuated —as several sequences and even pages veer into the realm of the purely interpretive, their imagery coming from so far out of left field that precisely what’s happening in them is fairly well up to you as a reader to figure out for yourself. Some find that sort of thing inherently frustrating — readers of this site, however, find it a huge part of the fun of any comics reading experience. Don’t we?
Okay, maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I don’t think so. In any case, Quinlan and Knowles aren’t about creating an impenetrable “ball of confusion” here, but they’re not going to hold your hand, either. Bizarre gag humor is a big part of all the thematically-connected stories in this comic, but they’re grounded enough in a recognizably warped view of consensus “reality” that you can figure out, at the very least, what the various loosely-knit “narratives” mean to you without breaking a real brain sweat. Not that there is such a thing, but —
There’s no such thing as eggs hurtling through the cosmic void to crash and hatch out vaguely Michelin Man-looking robots who then form co-dependent relationships (by accident or design) with outer space juvenile (if not younger? It’s hard to tell) cat-creatures, either — but if you want “realism,” you have other options. Plenty of them, in fact. For my part, though, I’m of a mind that we all need a good, stiff injection of the strange and ultimately unknowable into our lives on occasion, and when you feel the need to scratch that particular itch? You could not only do a lot worse than this comic, you’d be hard-pressed to do much better.
We’ve established that this is both weird and endearing stuff, then — even weirdly endearing —so what’s missing? How about some action?
Knowles and Quinlan have readers covered on that front, as well, as we get a battle royale with a monstrous slime creature that falls tonally somewhere between standard cheesy 1950s sci-fi and, say, Will Cardini’s epic clashes of cosmic forces. It’s a bit tongue in cheek, as everything here is, but it feels intrinsically right as an extension of events on previous pages, and it makes for some fast bonding — I’ll say no more, but that is a hint — between our two protagonists. As fluid and far-out as anything else on offer here, this “fight scene” is an entirely unassuming visual marvel, delineated in such a manner that the familiar and the utterly alien balance each other out while drawing you, inexorably, in. All of which is “critic-speak,” dear reader, for “it’s really fucking cool to look at as well as fun to read.”
Which isn’t too bad a summation of Space Egg on the whole. This is a comic that asks just enough from readers to keep ’em guessing, and offers so much pure batshit-crazy joy in return that the entire experience is an absolute and unmitigated pleasure.
Get off your ass — or stay on it, doesn’t matter — and order this book for $7 from Kalen Knowles’ bigcartel shop at https://kalenknowles.bigcartel.com/product/epace-egg
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