The Rule of Three: Ablatio Penis, The Last Tape in Hell and Behind the Crooked Cross
Posted by Andy Oliver on Nov 21, 2012
Small Pressganged is Broken Frontier’s weekly column designed to shine a spotlight on the often overlooked world of small press, self-published and altcomics. Every week we provide a mix of review round-ups of the best of current small press comics and spot interviews with some of the movers and shakers of the scene.
This week I’m taking a look at books from the U.S., the U.K. and Australia in the shape of Ablatio Penis, The Last Tape in Hell and Behind the Crooked Cross. If you’re a small press creator and you’d like some review coverage in ‘Small Pressganged’ then don’t forget my contact details can be found at the bottom of the column each and every week.
As ever, prices quoted are those given at point of origin. Please check out each individual store for details on international orders and postage and packaging costs.
Will Dinski (writer/artist), published by 2D Cloud
Ablatio Penis is one of those difficult books for a reviewer to discuss without giving away what may to some be considered a key story point. While I suspect the audience for ‘Small Pressganged’ is a more sophisticated one, for whom phraseology like *Spoiler Warnings* is a little redundant, I shall still endeavour not to elaborate on the main turning point that this story revolves around. Suffice to say some may be familiar with the term that the book uses as a title anyway, while others seeking to know more can simply Google it…
The book follows the political campaigns of Republican Andre St. Louis and his Democrat rival Susan Wallace in their race to become Governor. As both candidates travel further down the electoral trail they must each contend with matters of morality and conscience as secrets are unearthed, skeletons come tumbling out of closets, and one key revelation in the contest will turn everything on its head…
What initially appears to be merely a story about potential political dirty tricks and questions of integrity during an electoral campaign develops into something far more layered and nuanced under Dinski’s careful manoeuvring of his audience. Ablatio Penis is an intricate character piece that invites you to make presumptions about its cast and then delights in toying with them. With a late, clever and expectation-defying twist to the tale, that prompts a re-reading of earlier sequences and a reassessment of the motivations and intent therein, Dinski proves himself to be a masterful manipulator of his readers' preconceptions.
While Ablatio Penis is a subtly told tale it still has a cutting bite to it. It’s a shrewdly paced analysis of the way in which the political message can be consumed by an easily shifted perception of the individual involved, and the manner in which our most superficial of valuations – in fact our unrecognised prejudices – can subconsciously sway our decisions.
Visually, there’s something very precise about Dinski’s approach to his storytelling. His work has a sense of being carefully constructed, almost meticulously assembled, in the grid-like panel arrangement of each page. It’s also a very concentrated read – interestingly so given the number of times Dinski eschews text for “silent” sequences – with each page densely packed with tight imagery. Indeed, distinctive narrative technique is central to his delivery particularly in the way in which speech balloons become breaks between panels and changes in scene are signalled by a recurring blank page motif frame effect.
What’s most intriguing here is that Ablatio Penis says as much about the limitations of the electorate as it does about the candidates. It’s a genuinely thought-provoking piece that challenges the readership to examine their own shallow judgements and, if you’re unfamiliar with Will Dinski, one of those comics that will have you searching the internet for more examples of its author’s work the instant you put the book down. A consummate example of a creator fluent in the language of the comics page.
The Last Tape in Hell
Sarah Gordon (writer/artist)
We get to see far less of Sarah Gordon’s work in comics than I would like. Her art on The Peckham Invalids: The Cooperage was revelatory and I had good things to say about her recent contribution to the all-round splendid ink + PAPER #2 in this very column just a few weeks back.
The Last Tape in Hell is a solo offering set in the deepest bowels of the netherworld where an industrious Satan is going about his business when his stereo chews up his last remaining cassette. With Apple’s monopoly having apparently reached even the depths of Hades our demonic protagonist is thus forced on a quest to hunt down that all elusive last remaining tape to be found in the fiery pit. A search that will have dramatic consequences for both the master of the infernal realm and its inhabitants…
To say anymore would be to give away too much of what is, essentially, a 9-page gag strip but The Last Tape in Hell is more about the stunning visuals than the witty but brief plot. This is gorgeously illustrated and full of little details in each panel that you miss the first time round. Gordon’s work is always animated, buoyant and lively but she’s rather outdone herself here and the sheeny-shiny presentation and striking colouring only adds to the overall eye-catching sense of design.
“A short, nasty little comic” it may be but The Last Tape in Hell is the perfect showcase for Sarah’s vibrant, energetic artwork. More please. And soon.
Behind the Crooked Cross
Frank Candiloro (writer/artist)
I’ve reviewed the work of Australian creator Frank Candiloro before for Broken Frontier in both our reviews section and as part of ‘Small Pressganged’ (here and here) and I thought I had a pretty good handle on his schtick by now: a mix of filmic homage and parody, usually within the broad strokes of horror-related genres, and all served up in Frank’s trademark angular illustrative style.
While Behind the Crooked Cross retains that distinctive visual sensibility this is a work of a far grimmer and more disturbing level than the lovingly rendered pastiches that have made up my previous reading in the Candiloro back catalogue. The story follows Matylda, a Polish artist, through the Second World War beginning with her separation from her husband Lukas, an SS officer, when he is called into service. Shortly thereafter Matylda is caught in the middle of a bombing raid that has a profound effect on her life. She is not just injured physically; the blasting also apparently triggers an ability to see the horror behind the chaos of war and death itself lurking amongst the carnage.
As her visions increase and her sanity appears to splinter, Matylda discovers the appalling reality of the Holocaust. It’s a revelation that forces her to take drastic action and one with major repercussions for both herself and her long missing partner…
Whether this is a psychological thriller about a fractured psyche or a supernatural fable dealing with fate and redemption is up to each individual reader to decide. As a previous reader of some of Candiloro’s work, however, for me it marked a realisation that there are more strings to his bow than affectionate nods back to the golden age of cinema. Here we have a powerful treatise on mortality and our perception of it; a work juxtaposing the notion of death as a brutal, grim spectre with an alternative conception of it as a welcome release to be embraced and accepted.
Once more, the artwork is a feast for the eyes; that same jagged, almost woodcut idiosyncrasy that we’ve come to expect in the pages of a Frank Candiloro comic. In places I was reminded of the work of Japanese manga artist Hideshi Hino whose horror art, though obviously far more organic than Candiloro’s stylised visuals, still makes use of the same kind of stark imagery. To see a creator with such a distinguishing and individual voice, though, is always a treat and, as I’ve said before, I would love to see some of his stories in animated form. They’re crying out for a transition into that medium.
Darkly evocative, Behind the Crooked Cross is another eloquently fashioned entry from the Frankencomics stable.
Andy Oliver is Broken Frontier’s Managing Editor and a contributor to Paul Gravett’s 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die.
If you are a small press comics creator, or self-publisher, and would like your work to be reviewed in a future edition of Small Pressganged then e-mail Andy at email@example.com for further details. You can also follow Andy on Twitter here.
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