“Unexplained” — But Hardly Inexplicable

You’ve gotta hand it to Theo Ellsworth — nobody else does what he does.

Oh, sure, other people draw and make comics and all that, but nobody draws the way he does, employing the elements he does, in service of anything like the purpose he achieves. Ellsworth — who hails from Missoula, Montana, where he’s not “part” of the local comics scene so much as he is the local comics scene — combines influences that fall along a continuum that ranges from Native American folk and woodcut art to Charles Addams/Gormenghast to downright alien to produce art that both comes from, and takes you to, someplace else altogether. And although his long-running series Capacity is over and done with, he’s nowhere near done creating art.

And art is what his latest ‘zine, Unexplained — self-published, as ever, under Ellsworth’s own Thought Cloud Factory label, and presented in a generous, oversized magazine format — is all about. Dated 2018 but only now making its way to some of the better indie distributors out there, this is a 40-page collection of ink drawings that each, in their own way, tell a story, and occasionally come together, or are juxtaposed next to each other, to do the same. The inside title page labels this as being “issue one,” but whether there are truly more forthcoming, or this ends up standing alone, either way it represents and unqualified success.

I think the thing I appreciate most about Ellsworth’s art, besides the precision of its execution, is its overall tone — his characters are subject to frightening, even harrowing, situations and ordeals, but there’s a kind of playfulness to it all, a sense that everything’s going to be alright, maybe even is alright already, and that the personages and/or entities of one stripe of another that he’s depicting are maybe even in on the joke, so to speak, at least in the abstract. It’s not fair to say his work is “easy” in any respect, apart from being wonderfully easy on the eyes, but nothing he depicts is the end of the world, no matter how much it may feel (and, crucially, look) like it. You can take your time with this work, relax with it, absorb it in every intricate detail — then come back down to the world you know, hopefully with a fresh charge of “new perspective” serum injected directly into your brain by way of the optic nerve.

Which, my oh my, does sound rather pretentious, doesn’t it? But it’s the utter lack of pretense in Ellsworth’s illustrations that make them stand out every bit as much as their undeniable technical proficiency does. Welcome to worlds unknown, then, but not overtly hostile — to rich, conceptually-dense waters where you won’t be allowed to drown. Emjoy the ride, and by all means — go at your own pace.

Certainly there is detail aplenty herein to not only ponder over and absorb but to savor, and freed (largely) from narrative’s hard-and-fast strictures, Ellsworth is afforded ample opportunity to simply “wow” you by wondering where all this baffling beauty comes from, and how it manages to make its way not just onto paper, but into print. “So-and-so makes comics that are unlike anyone else’s” is, let’s face it, music to the ears of the discerning observer and/or reader, but that’s just a starting point with Theo Ellsworth — which is why I started this review by stating as much. But he’s just as concerned with where he takes you as he is in finding the most memorable method of conveyance to get you there. It helps for a reader to care just as much, if not more, about the journey than about the destination, then, but rest assured : you’ll not only get there, you’ll be amazed at the sights you see along the way.

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Unexplained is available for $12.00 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/unexplained.html

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 pleased indeed if you’d take a moment to check it out by directing you kind attention to : https://www.patreon.com/fourcolorapocalypse

Kus! Week Hangover : Theo Ellsworth’s “Birthday” (Mini Kus! #35)

A heady mix of of the explicitly alien, the vaguely Aztec, the less-vaguely Navajo,  and the even-less-vaguely-than-that Blackfeet, Missoula, Montana-based cartoonist Theo Ellsworth creates totem pole art on paper by way of some interdimensional bridge to realms unknown, and the influence of native peoples makes its presence as surely felt in his narratives as it is in his illustrations, centered as they often are on rites of passage that are tribal in origin, but transposed into a very, even obsessively, personal setting. His 2015 Mini Kus! offering (#35 in the series), Birthday, is no exception, and may just represent the surest and most concise distillation of his overall artistic project as just about anything he’s done.

And speaking of obsessiveness, Ellsworth utilizes every last micro-millimeter of every panel on every page, his highly-detailed drawings a kaleidoscopic exorcism (one of his books, also published by Kus! and reviewed on this very site in its early going, is not-coincidentally titled An Exorcism) of tight linework, meticulous cross-hatching, exacting patterns, and explosively rich color. If you don’t find something to catch your eye in an Ellsworth illustration — usually several somethings — thank you need your eyes checked. Hell, maybe even replaced.

We’re told that our protagonist herein is “nervous,” and he’s got every right to be, given that he’s undergoing something called the Inner-Space Birth Ritual, which is best described as — oh, fuck me, it’s not best “described” at all, it’s best absorbed through the retina. It’s not like there are any words in this one to get in the way of doing so.

And yet the narrative here is pretty clear-cut and in no way indiscernible — it’s fair to say it’s sometimes subsumed within the mode of its own expression, but that’s okay : the method of the journey is every bit as important as the journey itself, and you’re not going to find yourself lost so much as lost within this post-psychedelic initiation/trial by fire (of the stars). Take your time taking it in — there’s no other cartoonist doing anything remotely like this.

Birthday, then, is unique unto itself, but of a piece with Ellsworth’s ouevre in its entirety, a painful piece of revelation that is nevertheless an absolute joy to take in. Solid footing is as absent from the proceedings metaphorically as it is literally, and while that would typically trigger a “just go with the flow” quasi-admonition on the part of this critic, in point of fact you needn’t  concern yourself with that, as our guy Theo is all about pulling you — in, at first, and then along. The compulsive nature of the comic’s construction and execution in turn leads to a compulsive reading experience.

Don’t be surprised, then, if this comic leaves you feeling more than a bit breathless, and perhaps even with a reeling head, to boot. It lends itself quite nicely and immediately to re-appraisal and the agonizing series of events it relays may be frightening (okay, fair enough, there’s no “may be” about it), but they’re so creatively delineated that you can’t help but feel something akin to a sense of pride when our jittery “hero” makes it out the other side — wherever that is.

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Birthday is available for $8 (worldwide shipping is free!) directly from the publisher at https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/23050949/birthday-theo-ellsworth

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

 

Kus! Week : “Bonkers” (S! #35)

The blacklight-and-neon-green cover to Bonkers, issue #35 of S! The Baltic Comics Magazine, a product of the imagination of Norwegian cartoonist Erlend Peder Kvam — who also provides one of the anthology’s strongest strips, a sing-song number that features a trio of anthropomorphic animal/space creature hybrids going about their largely-leisurely business with a spring in their step and a shared “hive-mind” between then — announces that the tightly-focused themes that most volumes of this series tether themselves to is pretty well out the window this time out, and that in its place we have an eclectic gathering of artists from around the globe quite literally letting it all hang out. All well and good, right?

But when you crack that cover open, things by and large get even better, as the “gallery-show-in-the-palm-of-your-hand” editorial remit the title has always lived and died by turns out to lend itself very nicely to an “anything goes” assemblage of “raw feed” direct from the subconscious minds of some very interesting minds indeed. It’s tough, I suppose, to say what would fit within the extremely broad framework of a “bonkers” collection, but you’d know damn well if something didn’t — and to the credit of this edition, there are no sore-thumb standouts, but there are plenty of standouts in the more general sense of that term.

Jason Herr regales us with a finely-detailed-in-its-exaggeration journey into cosmic headspaces, Marko Maetamm channels his inner Greg Stump with a noisy debate between shadow-bathed figures of some sort that are superseded altogether by their own word balloons, Brazil’s Fabio Zimbres serves up a slice of bizarro metafiction that is ultimately about both itself and the act of its own creation, Jul Gordon’s strip is a veritable clinic on use of space on the page and the relationship between time and movement, Latvian siblings Ernests and Andrejs Klavins take us to the darkly satirical heart of a trade show whose “trade” appears to be nothing but empty corporate sloganeering, Emilie Gleason depicts a modern office run from a hot tub that has the kind of company “culture” you’d depressingly surmise such a situation would engender, and stalwarts like Theo Ellsworth, Samplerman, and Zane Zlemesa deliver precisely the sort of material you’d expect from them, which is to say something far beyond the expected. And the explicable.

So, yeah, it’s a solid line-up of talent operating on ground that is far less so. Agate Lielpetere, Anna Mlck, Beatrix Urkowitz, David Ozols, Kameeellah, and Konig Lu Q make up a respectable second tier of creators that have produced work commensurate with their talents, and Olaf Ladousse, white largely missing the mark with his experimental offering, at least keeps things interesting in both narrative and visual terms. Karlina Marta Zvirbule’s “story” is the only one that fell completely flat for me, but even there it’s not like you can’t tell that a hefty amount of work effort into it — sometimes the best intentions just lead you to some rather sorry places.

So, yeah, this one’s all over the map — but most every corner, nook, and cranny of that map is well worth checking out. And even if you get lost — and trust me when I say you will —the “running order” the strips are presented in ensures that you’ll always make it back home safely. Changed, perhaps, sure — but if a dull commitment to conservative formalisn is your bag, I think it’s fair to assume odds are good you’d never buy this collection in the first place, anyway, so your loss is no loss.

While ostensibly competing “prestige” anthologies such as Fantagraphics’ Now have largely taken readers to more valleys than peaks this year, S! just keeps on chugging along, delivering the curious goods largely under the radar. Bonkers doesn’t beg for your attention, but it grabs hold of it firmly once you take notice and never lets go.

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Bonkers retails for $13.95 (worldwide shipping is free!) and is available at http://www.komikss.lv/

Also, please consider supporting my ongoing work by subscribing to 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

 

Four Color Apocalypse 2018 Year In Review : Top Ten Single Issues

With the advent (ha! Get it?) of December, the time has come, once again, for our annual look back at some of the finest comics the year had to offer. We’ll be skipping the usual offerings for the next week or two around here, including the Weekly Reading Round-Up column, since re-reading is your humble emcee’s top priority for the next little while. A run-down, then, of the six different categories I’ve broken things down into is in order, and please keep in mind that I’m deliberately eschewing calling any of these lists a “best-of” simply because I haven’t read everything that’s out there — and who could? Think of these, then, as lists of the ten best entries in each category that I’ve read. Or my own personal favorites. Or something. Anyway, “brackets” are as follows:

Top Ten Single Issues – Pretty self-explanatory, I should think : this list focuses on individual comic books and minis, either stand-alones or part of an ongoing series.

Top Ten Comics Series – This list is designed to spotlight comics that are produced on some sort of production schedule and honors those of consistently high quality. Open-ended, ongoing series and finite mini-series both are eligible, the only qualification is that each series has to have released at least three issues over the course of the past year, since if they’ve only put out two, either one of them would represent 50% of said comic’s total “output” and should, by rights, probably land in the “Top 10 Single Issues” category.

Top Ten Contemporary Collections – This list will focus on collected editions of material previously released either as single issues or in anthologies, etc. English-language translations of Eurocomics, Manga, and the like are also eligible in this category. I have a fairly generous definition of “contemporary,” and have set an admittedly quite arbitrary “cut-off date” of the year 2000, since anything that presents work from the previous century will fall into the category of —

Top Ten Vintage Collections – Same rules as above, just for pre-2000 stuff.

Top Ten Special Mentions – This is a new one I’ve never done before and is somewhat amorphous by definition, so by way of explanation I’ll just say it’s a list designed to highlight my favorite comics-adjacent releases of the year : work that’s done by cartoonists but doesn’t fit the traditional sequential-art format, or else publications that are about comics, but aren’t actually comics themselves.

Top Ten Graphic Novels – Last but certainly not least, this category has fairly strict limitations : every work in it is one which was designed from the outset to be presented in the “graphic novel” format, and cannot have been serialized anywhere else, either in print or online, since those sorts of things are already covered by the “Top Ten Contemporary Collections” designation. These are long-form, wholly original works only.

Are we good? I think we’re good. So let’s jump right in with the Top Ten Single Issues list —

10. Goiter #3 By Josh Pettinger (Self-Published) – The strongest comic yet from one of the most promising “emerging” cartoonists out there, I’m glad to see Pettinger moving away from his Clowes/Ware roots and find an authentic perspective all his own with this superb story about a young woman in love with — a chronologically-displaced floating head? Moving, smart, authentic, and deeply emotive work.

9. Rookie Moves By November Garcia (Self-Published) – Probably my favorite autobio cartoonist working today is at her best in this fun and funny (not to mention endlessly charming) mini focused on her transition from star-struck fan girl to “professional” comic artist — who’s still a star-struck fan girl. One of the most earnest and refreshingly un-pretentious reads of the year.

8. Rust Belt #4 By Sean Knickerbocker (Self-Published) – We’ve heard a lot this year about comics that capture the current MAGA-poisoned “cultural moment,” but for my money none succeeded so well as the fourth issue of Knickerbocker’s ongoing “solo anthology” series, as he casts his increasingly-sharp observational eye on the dual personalities of a guy who’s an average enough husband at home, and a rising right-wing social media “star” in his spare time. You know the people in this comic — and while that’s a damn depressing thing to consider, it makes for utterly compelling reading.

7. By Monday I’ll be Floating In The Hudson With The Other Garbage By Laura Lannes (2dcloud) – The most exemplary collection of diary comics I had the pleasure to read in 2018, Lannes’ subtle and self-deprecating tone and smooth, fundamentally inventive cartooning chart the doomed trajectory of a Tinder “romance” in both real-time and a gorgeous, over-sized format. Remarkably restrained for something so personal, this one sticks in your mind long after     closing it.

6. From Crust Till Dawn By Sarah Romano Diehl (Self-Published) – The second chapter in Diehl’s ongoing memoir of her time as a pizza parlor employee unfolds with a dreamlike quality and ease that brings out the character, rather than the nuts-and-bolts specifics, of each instance it portrays — the end result being a joyously unique reading experience quite unlike anything else.

5. Cosmic BE-ING #6 By Alex Graham (Self-Published) – Graham enters her post-Angloid era with this awesomely bizarre and entirely singular look at the lives of the residents of her “Clown Castle” in the sky who will creep you out and crack you up in equal measure as they point out the absurdities of wage labor, group living, and other everyday taken-as-given situations large and small. The most assured effort yet from one of the most unique talents in cartooning today.

4. Tongues #2 By Anders Nilsen (Self-Published) – The most ambitious (thematically and visually) ongoing narrative in comics ups the mystery even as things come into view more clearly in its various and for-now-disparate plotlines. Gorgeously illustrated and colored, viscerally written, this is a true masterpiece-in-the-making that demands and rewards rigorous re-reading and examination.

3. Perfect Discipline And Unbending Loyalty By Tommi Parrish (Perfectly Acceptable Press) – In the space of just a couple of short years, Parrish has assumed comics’ mantle as the most astute chronicler of the emotional landscape of human interpersonal relations, and in this sumptuously-presented work they disarm, dissect, and ultimately empower their characters as they navigate generational differences with the same delicately understated honesty as they bring to their intuitive mapping of physical, sexual, and even mental intimacy between couples. Staggering, heartfelt, supremely confident work.

2. Frontier #17, Mother’s Walk By Lauren Weinstein (Youth In Decline) – Weinstein’s love letter to her newborn child is a testament to the power of motherhood and cartooning both as it traverses the eternal moment just before a new life enters this world in an elliptical fashion that encapsulates past, present, and future in an ever-present “now” that circles back in on itself and never ends — as is most certainly true of this comic itself, which breaks every pre-conceived notion still remaining as to what the medium is capable of. There’s been a lot of “hype” around this book recently — including from yours truly — but rest assured : none of it captures the full magnificence of all it contains, of all it is.

1. Now #4, Edited By Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics) – The most significant ongoing anthology in well over a decade, Reynolds puts it all together in this issue (with plenty of help from cartoonists like Roman Muradov, Julian Glander, Nathan Cowdry, Matthias Lehmann, Walt Holcombe, Tommi Parrish, and Brian Blomerth, among others), more than living up to the “mission statement” in his book’s title, but going one step further in the process — this isn’t just where comics are at now, it also shows where they’re going in the future. The best, most varied, most effectively curated (I term I try not to use at all, but employ here with absolute precision) assemblage of sequential art you’re going to come across in this year and probably just about any other, this is a shot across the bow, a challenge for everyone to “raise the bar” and make comics that are as confidently-realized as those on offer here.

Whew! Okay! That’s quite the run-down! And we’re just getting started! 2018 really has been an amazing year for comics, and narrowing down each of these lists to just ten “winners” has been a very difficult task indeed. I feel bad about some of the books that didn’t “make the cut,” but I’m very confident in everything I settled on, as well as the specific places they earned. I hope you agree with my selections, sure, but more than that — I hope you’ve found some great new comics to add to your “must-buy” list!

Next up — Top Ten Ongoing Series! I’m aiming to have that list up tomorrow!

Weekly Reading Round-Up : 09/16/2018 – 09/22/2018, “Now” #4 And New Minis From Brian Canini

From the best anthology comic in a decade to the best ongoing mini, this week had plenty to offer yours truly. It’s late as I write this, I’m tired, but I’m also enthused to talk comics, so let’s do just that —

I’m not sure what it is about fourth issues of anthologies, but in much the same way that Kramers Ergot #4 threw down the gauntlet and shouted “this is where comics are now, and this is where comics are going — dare you to stop us!” way back in the halcyon days of 2008, editor Eric Reynolds has assembled the very best of the best of veteran and emerging contemporary cartoonists to make much the same declaration here in 2018 with Now #4, which marks not only the (temporary?) pinnacle of this Fantagraphics series to date, but also something of a high-water mark for the anthology format in general. Anyone who wants to keep up is going to have their work cut out for them, as there’s not a false note on offer here, and the occasional “clunkers” that made their way into the first three issues are literally nowhere to be found. Yes, that’s really me saying that, while some strips in this collection are no doubt more successful than others in terms of achieving their aims, literally every single one of them is at the very least good, and several are bona fide revelations. The pages between Trenton Doyle Hancock’s visceral gut-punch of a cover and Nick Thorburn’s all-too-true back cover are loaded with creativity that ranges from the sublime to the explosive, and if you’re looking for a temperature-gauge of the overall health and vitality of the medium in general, this is evidence that, for all the hand-wringing going on in (and about) comics these days, things have arguably never been better for those willing to travel off the beaten path.

I don’t usually do this, but — “A+” marks  go to Brian Blomerth’s staggeringly inventive visual tour-de-force “Pray For Pianoland,” Julian Glander’s wistful and breathtakingly-realized “Skybaby,” Diego Agrimbau and Lucas Varela’s multi-layered metafictional mind-fuck “The Absolute Truth,” Nathan Cowdry’s two entries, the melancholic “I Thought Of You All The Way Down” and the uniquely acerbic “Kewpie,” Theo Ellsworth’s nightmarish-yet-innocent (and vice-versa) “What Are You Doing?,” Roman Muradov’s gorgeous and devilishly clever “Quarters,” and Tommi Parrish’s searingly understated and achingly human untitled relationship autopsy ; solid “A” grades are awarded Cynthia Alfonso’s minimalist and deeply resonant “From Noise To White,” Walt Holcombe’s refreshingly unpretentious autobiographical paean to the joys of meditation, “I Am Bananas,” Matthias Lehmann’s richly-delineated and thematically complex “The Cave,” Rebecca W. Kirby’s sumptuous and soul-baring “Waves,” and David Alvarado’s crisp, embarrassingly true-to-life “Afterschool Special,” the only “throwback”-style strip in the bunch; and pulling up what passes for the “rear” with “B” grades are John Ohannesian’s lavishly-rendered short humor strip, “30,000 Years Ago,” Maria Medem’s block-color feast of paranoia and apprehension, “Maimed Gaze,” and the second installment of J.C. Menu’s cartoon dream diary, “S.O.S. Suitcases,” which is such a leaps-and-bounds improvement over the one presented “way” back in issue number one that I almost feel like giving him extra points just for surpassing expectations.

Throw in a near-suicidally-generous cover price of $9.99 for 128 pages and what you’ve got here is very probably the “must-buy” comic of the year — or even of the last several. Now has hit a stride few anthologies ever manage in a remarkably short period of time, and is absolutely brimming over with vitality at this point. We are so damn lucky to have this series, and now that Reynolds has his feet firmly under him and has managed to fully differentiate his current project from his earlier (and justly legendary) MOME, all I can say is — watch out. We appear to be in the presence of one of the all-time greats here.

Brian Canini’s Plastic People #6 continues the meticulous world-building that is the backbone of what I’ve made no secret is my favorite ongoing mini. Yeah, this issue is pure “side-step” that doesn’t advance the plot in any appreciable way, focusing as it does on a double-date between our two “surgical police” protagonists and their significant others, but it’s a fun exit off the main narrative’s thoroughfare that adds depth, nuance, and even a little complexity both to the personal lives of the people we’re getting to know, and to the nightmarishly phony future L.A. that they inhabit. You could probably skip this issue and get away with it in terms of keeping up, but at just $1.99 there’s really no reason to do that.

By contrast, Plastic People #7 is easily the weakest chapter in the ongoing saga to date, although we do return to propelling the murder-mystery plot forward in this one and Canini’s cartooning is, as ever, strong, clean, and economical in its precision. Still, when you see “future” residents of Tinseltown still, like, saying “like” all the, like, time — and, even more embarrassingly, still using terms like “amazeballs” — something tells me that not enough thought has gone into extrapolating some type of unique dialect that will surely develop over time. I’m not saying everything’s gotta be as intricately-woven as the visionary sci-fi linguistics that Alan Moore developed for The Ballad Of Halo Jones or Crossed + One Hundred, but seriously — slang terms come and go, and some of the ones we see here are already pretty well on the way out.

Even more annoying : the entire narrative trajectory of this issue is rather cynically constructed in service of a cheap punchline on the last page that you’ll see coming a mile away. It’s not like Canini to be this painfully obvious, and it’s rather disappointing to see, but let’s give him his due — seven issues in with only one misstep is a pretty good ratio, and I see no reason to think this one isn’t an unfortunate aberration that he’ll quickly brush aside. This is still a great series, that just happens to have one pretty damn lousy issue. No reason to jump ship at all, and hey, at least this one is still just two bucks, as well.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again : the law of averages dictates that Canini’s Blirps probably should have been a “one-and-done” deal, but somehow he keeps milking way more fun out of this fairly simple premise than I ever would have thought possible. More four-panel “gag” strips featuring neurotic and obsessive robot monsters are what you get here, and every one of them is damn funny and too charming for its own good. So, ya know, don’t even listen to me anymore, Brian — keep making these as long as you feel like, because they keep on hitting all the right notes. $1.99 for a full-color mini is also a pretty nice buy in today’s comics economy.

And with that, we come to the end of another Round-Up column. Next week’s selections remain entirely up in the air, as I’ve received some very nice-looking stuff in the mail recently, but won’t have much time to start reading any of it until tomorrow evening. What I particularly like, or particularly dislike, we’ll talk about here in seven short days, if that’s cool with you — or even if it’s not. in the meantime —

Now #4 will be hitting your LCS shelves on Wednesday and is, as already stated, the very definition of an essential purchase, while Brain Canini’s minis are, as always,  available via his Drunken Cat Comics imprint, which has a Storenvy site at http://drunkencatcomics.storenvy.com/

 

There’s Nothing Else Quite Like Watching Theo Ellsworth Perform “An Exorcism”

There must be something in the water out in Missoula, Montana.

David Lynch hails from there originally, after all — and so does Theo Ellsworth, one of the most intriguing, challenging, mind-bending, and frankly skilled cartoonists around these days. The detailed intricacy of his illustrations is testament to that fact, but it’s the underlying intent running through them — the deep and abiding sense that this is stuff he desperately needs to purge from his subconscious, through his hand, onto paper — that sets Ellsworth’s work apart from that of his contemporaries. There are visions that plague this guy’s mind, and I’m sure he’s grateful to have found an outlet for expressing them.

Shit, I know I’m grateful that he has, and I’m just a humble reader. But Ellsworth’s comics take me places. Dark, haunted, amorphous, undefinable places. Vistas of beauty and bewilderment, where “steady footing” stands definitively revealed as a lie, and malleability charges — or, more likely, shifts — to the forefront as the only, the eternal, the absolute truth. But his books might be well served by having a gentle admonition on their opening pages to the effect of : ” if you can’t let go, then go no further.”

His most recent full-length work,  An Exorcism (Kus! Comics, number three in their “Kus! Mono” series) is probably the purest and most lavish distillation yet of his utterly unique multi-dimensional view of existence, a — if you’ll forgive me invoking a cheesy song title — journey to the center of the mind that is by turns harrowing and humorous, unsettling and unhindered, vaguely familiar and decidedly alien. I’m not sure if anyone who’s never fucked around with psychedelics will have anything remotely like a frame of reference with which to approach this book, and it may not be healthy to even try. Fortunately for you all, I ingested a fair amount of acid in my youth and am, therefore, qualified (in my own mind, at any rate) to give analyzing it a shot.

“When I reach the blue surface, my exorcism treatment will begin,” our nameless protagonist informs us by way of a back-cover blurb (the comic itself is a wordless affair), before cluing us into the fact that he’s “not ready for this,” and that all he knows is that “this is going to be a harsh experience.” Which, have no fear, absolutely proves to be the case. But that’s only part of it.

Inanimate objects come to ghastly life, creatures of nightmare assuming physical (?) form, the makeshift walls between “fantasy” and “reality” melting away to nothingness, neuroses externalizing themselves and upping the ante in terms of the torments they cause — these are just the beginning. The portal. The gateway. There’s always another door — even if it’s not, strictly speaking, a door — and what’s on the other side is invariably more difficult, but necessary, to face than what came before. Ellsworth’s visual world is layered, hopelessly complex, painstakingly detailed, unfathomably dense, and his storytelling skills can best be summed up with the no-doubt-inadequate term “relentless.” Every page looks like it must have taken years to draw, and the fact that he can just gear up and do it all again — and again — and again? Goddamn, but I don’t even know where that ability comes from.

And do I even want to? I mean, please don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that somebody’s imagination is this untethered, this frenetic, this truly (dictionary definition here) fantastic — but I’m sorta relieved that it’s not mine. Ellsworth is one of those visionaries who makes art for the noblest and most therapeutic reason of all — because he has no other choice. You know this kind of art when you see it, and you know it from page first to page last here.

And yet the sheer intensity of this head-trip doesn’t preclude it from being an enjoyable one, either. You could be forgiven, in fact, for feeling a rush of excitement as you flip each page, anticipation for seeing what the artist comes up with next just runs that high. Anything’s possible. Rules — apart from his strict self-imposed guideline of three two-panel pages followed by a single-panel “splash” page — are out the window. If it can be thought of, odds are better than good that it’ll show up. If it can’t be thought of, hell — it’ll probably show up twice.

The terrors and wonders balance each other out pretty nicely here, but not so much in a matter of alternating rotation in that of a two-for-one. What is terrifying is also amazing, what is amazing is also terrifying. There’s no need for artificial distinctions to be drawn, nor does Ellsworth give you the option to engage in such rationalization for its own sake — and in a final and decidedly appropriate move, author and protagonist also reveal themselves to be one and the same, and you realize, of course, that you knew this all along. That it couldn’t be any other way. Which means that An Exorcism can also boast of one more distinction — it’s the out-and-out freakiest autobio comic that anyone has ever conceived of.

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If you’re ready to explore the deepest recesses of Theo Ellsworth’s singularly brilliant, and singularly scary, mind, An Exorcism is available for $14.95 (with free shipping to the US!) from our good friends at Kus! : https://kushkomikss.ecrater.com/p/26881870/an-exorcism-theo-ellsworth