What Hatches Out Of The “Space Egg”?

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.

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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

Also a reminder that this review, and all others around these parts, is “brought to you” by my Patreon page, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics. You can now join up for as little as a buck, and trust me, you get a lot for your money. Please take a moment to check it out by pointing your browser to https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

 

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 05/27/2018 – 06/02/2018, Kalen Knowles And (More) Pat Aulisio

Still firmly in catch-up mode (but with light at the end of the tunnel), this week’s grab-bag of items that arrived in my mailbox includes three self-published comics from Kalen Knowles, one of the most distinctive voices in the Seattle underground, and another from Philly’s Pat Aulisio, who continues to blow me away with his idiosyncratic visions. Why waste time? Let’s have a look at the good stuff, and this time out it’s all good —

Knowles’ Journal is like nothing else I’ve ever seen in my life, a densely-packed sketchbook diary (think the Wimpy Kid books and you’re getting warm) told from the POV of a young octopoid alien named Atticus that is almost disarmingly clever and imbued with a genuine sense of charm and wonder throughout. Atticus’ world — hell, his entire space/time continuum — bears certain similarities to our own, but rather than employing these as set-pieces for a straight allegorical tale, Knowles fashions a springboard from which to hint at any number of wild, even inexplicable, differences, and the end result is something equal parts utterly alien and entirely universal. You get a hell of a lot of storytelling for your five bucks here, all of it deliriously inventive, and if you pass on this, you seriously ought to have your head examined.

Stick Guy Comics is a varied, but generally pretty impressive, collection of one-page strips Knowles produced as part of Seattle’s monthly DUNE cartooning “jam sessions,” wherein participants would get together at Cafe Racer and produce an entire ‘zine’s-worth of comics in a single night. The character of Stick Guy is exactly what he sounds like, and there’s a definite Michael DeForge “vibe” to most of these stories, with basic and colorful shapes being utilized in service of (mis)adventures that are eminently easy to relate to, yet no less weird for that fact. As you’d no doubt expect given the circumstances under which they were created, some of these strips are more successful in terms of doing what they set out to than others, but when they “hit,” they really “hit,”  and truth be told even the “misses” are still interesting. Not an essential purchase by any means, but still well worth the five dollar asking price.

I doubt Knowles knows it, but the title for his Doctor Dracula comic is pretty similar to an aborted Ed Wood project called Dr. Acula, and like Wood’s films, this feels like art that arrived here from another dimension. Combining the stories of Tarzan, Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, and even Gilligan’s fucking Island into one bursting-at-the-seams package of “high weirdness” might sound like a lot to fit into a mere 16 pages, but not only does it all work, it all hews to a strangely coherent inner logic, and is damn funny, to boot. Knowles’ B&W artwork in this one is richly-detailed, expressive, even lavish, betraying just a hint of Rick Geary influence (never a bad thing in my book) around the margins. You’re gonna want to read this one twice through before putting it down, just to see if you missed anything the first time around, and if your comics budget for the month is only three dollars, this wouldn’t be a bad thing at all to spend it on.

Knowles also sent me a terrifically bizarre and broad-themed mini called Intervals that I can’t seem to find available for purchase anywhere online, but if you can cajole a copy out of him, I highly recommend you try to do just that — as for everything else, it’s available from his Big Cartel shop at https://kalenknowles.bigcartel.com/

F’real Real is a mind-bending solo (well, for the most part) anthology from Pat Aulisio that features such a varied assortment of short, mostly full-color, strips that it’s fair to say there’s truly something for everyone in here — provided, of course, that “everyone” is a little bent. Once you get past that absolutely awesome cover you’ll find —among other, errrrmm, “delights” — tales of repetitious cuckolded cat-burglars, broke ex-wrestlers, dimension-hopping Japanese rock bands, and my favorite, a hot-rodder in the Big Daddy Roth mode who is in hock to a demonic space alien that requires young flesh to feast upon. Aulisio’s art has a raw immediacy that makes even the likes of Brian Chippendale look overly-professional and conservative, so your only option here is to hold on for dear life and try to survive the ride.

Printed on slick, glossy paper and featuring heavy-duty cardstock covers, this “co-production” of Drippy Bone Books and Aulisio’s own Yeah Dude Comics is well worth the eight bucks he’s charging for it and can be ordered directly from the cartoonist at http://yeahdude.storenvy.com/collections/50621-all-products/products/12163422-freal-real

And with that, we’ll call it a wrap for this week’s column. Next time up we’ll be taking a look at — shit, you know what? I don’t even know yet. But I’m pretty well caught up with what folks have been sending me in the mail, so maybe I’ll find something interesting at the shop this Wednesday? One can always (or should that be only ?) hope!