In the spirit of fairness from the outset, Mat Brinkman’s recently-reissued Kap Trap is a fascinating, if curiously uneven, beast — but here’s the more significant part of the deal : as a historical artifact, it’s absolutely invaluable.
Nearly 30 years old now, this early-days effort from a future founding member of the legendary Forth Thunder collective shows a cartoonist in fairly full possession of all his artistic faculties right out of the gate, even if it’s a little more tentative in terms of its execution than later efforts such as Teratoid Heights or Multiforce. The line from the one to the others is fairly clear, however — and I defy you to find another cartoonist who had this clear and singular a vision of what they were looking to accomplish at age 18. Or at least another one not named Tillie Walden, who likewise arrived on “the scene” more or less full-formed, in the creative sense, a couple of decades later.
Not that the two have much of anything in common beyond their one-time prodigy status, mind you : Walden’s narratives tend toward the emotionally resonant and intuitive, while Brinkman’s work is (or was) — well, Brinkman’s work, existing in a self-created category of one, obsessively-rendered in a manner that makes it look carved or chiseled out of the blackness surrounding it, an effect very nicely accentuated in this new offset-printed, extremely thick and sturdy edition from Hollow Press that evokes a “flipbook” aesthetic by juxtaposing each single-page illustration with a blank and inky-as-night page on the left. It’s well and truly every bit as stunning an object to look at, and to hold in your hand, as it is to pore over and thoughtfully consider.
It’s in that consideration, however, that your mileage is sure to — well, you know the cliche. To refer to this wordless story as a “metaphysical journey” seems fair enough, but it’s just as surely a metaphorical one. What’s happening could, I suppose, actually be happening — be it could also be allegory for any number of more legitimately relevant (or, if you wish to be unkind, prosaic) concerns. That’s the eternal mystery of Brinkman, I suppose — how literally he wants you to take his comics is always going to vary depending on who’s reading them. Even in his nascent stages of development, as evidenced by this volume, the extent to which he was determined to reveal the secrets of the universe well under the radar, and the extent to which he was just yanking our collective chain, remains a very open question.
That’s certainly all well and good — hell, it’s damn well and great — but it’s one of those things that is sure to divide, as all truly important work does. There’s an obsessive creepiness that hangs over this mini, in contrast to the “gonzo” tone of Brinkman’s later, more-celebrated work, it’s true — beyond that, however, you’ll recognize the kernels from which a mighty oak would grow on just about every page, and with that firmly in mind, you’ll find this to be as familiar as it is curious, as joyous as it is eerie. On its own it’s a strong piece of work — observed within the context of its author’s entire oeuvre, it’s flat-out amazing.
All of which, I guess, means that this is a comic perhaps of interest to very few (although surely more than its original print run of 50 copies made allowances for) — but if you’re among those few, it’s an absolute revelation.
Kap Trap is available for $13 from Floating World Comics at https://floatingworldcomics.com/shop/comic-books/kap-trap-by-mat-brinkman
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 worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. The link for that is https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse