“Goat Song” Hits All The Weird Notes

Cartoonist Larkin Ford’s 2018-published Birdcage Bottom Books mini, Goat Song, isn’t just a curious beast in and of itself — it’s also, at least partially, about a curious beast. Who’s brought into the world by an even more curious birth. And if you’re getting the distinct vibe that we’re kind of in Eraserhead territory here, pat yourself on the back because you’re absolutely right.

In purely physical terms, it’s sort of a gorgeous-looking little comic : riso-printed in rich black ink on aesthetically pleasing cream-colored paper stock and featuring coolly intriguing shades of blue on the cover, it’s a suitably raw and unvarnished item to hold in your hand, but it’s quality is also such that it almost borders on the lavish, the overall sensation not being all that unlike riding around a worn and scuffed old Rolex or Omega watch on your wrist. It’s rough around the edges, sure, but there’s still no mistaking its artistry.

And the same is true of the story itself, come to think of it — everything looks, everything reads, thoroughly worn, lived-in; past its prime, no doubt, but it’s all rendered with such detail and heart that you can’t help but admire both it and, crucially, the work that obviously went into it. And hey, if you can discern a concrete meaning to it all, too, that’s a real plus.

It also means that you’re likely a more astute reader than I am. Somewhere, I think, buried deep within this tale of an aging meat-cutter named Roy who blows off a weird and pulsating, pustule-ridden infection on his leg until it’s too late and he finds himself a new daddy (or, I guess, mommy — which rather puts his long-suffering wife Carla in a weird spot) is a point, I think, about animal slaughter, about nature striking back in unexpected ways, about karma, and maybe even about a handful of attendant themes — but I also suspect that Ford just had a weird-ass idea and followed it to wherever it took him. And truth be told, I actually respect that a lot more.

I should also, for the record, state that I respect the hell out of Ford’s skills as a pure illustrator.  His intricate attention to figures and faces, his graphite shading, his Lemire-esque application of washes, and his cinematic visual storytelling sensibilities are all considerably more than solid, and certainly lend to the proceedings a requisite atmosphere of foreboding undercut with absurdity. This is by no means a “disposable” read, but neither is it an exceptionally “heavy” one, despite its obviously high “weirdness quotient.” There’s an agreeably singular “vibe” to it, and while it may not lend itself to much by way of deep thinking, there’s no shame in that — and there are a hell of a lot of artists out there who would actually do well to stop trying to hammer their sequential narratives into a particular shape in order to make a particular statement, and just allow them to become, and consequently to be, whatever it is that they are.

In all frankness and candor, I’m not prepared to go so far as to say that this is a work that “sticks with you” in any appreciable way, but it does subtly linger, and even does so to the point where you find yourself wanting to check it out again here and there, and that’s a noble enough accomplishment in and of itself. Occasionally nauseating without being downright unsettling, occasionally creepy without being downright frightening, Ford has crafted a work that my high-off-his-ass, 21-year-old self would probably have summed up as being “kinda fucked up” — and you know what? Comics like that were always kinda cool. And they still are.

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Goat Song is available for $4.00 from Birdcage Bottom Books at https://birdcagebottombooks.com/collections/comic-books/products/goat-song

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