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I'll Wait Outside Your Room and The Monster That Ate Stars
posted December 31, 2003
 

Creator: Souther Salazar
Publishing Info: Self-Published Mini-Comics, 2003
Ordering Numbers: None

I'll Wait Outside Your Room is a great mini-comic of the lonely boy variety, bursting at the seams with the kind of hard-to-define effect that makes a reviewer slam unlikely words together and cross his fingers. Neither "fevered elegance" nor "studied improvisation" comes close to doing Salazar's comic book justice, although both are closer than a third choice, "extroverted reticence." The effect Salazar achieves here is extremely fragile, suspended perfectly between a window into someone's personal diaries and a very considered artistic effect. It makes you look twice or even three times at every page not just to make certain you've picked everything up but to capture the fleeting feeling it achieves more effectively. Stop paying attention, and this comic flutters right out of your hands.

Salazar's comic is divided into 46 one-page efforts, of varying sizes and paper quality, which look like they were assembled from the materials available to an elementary school student working off the art cart. The pages that stick out on a first reading are the gags, which are blunt and funny, their crude drawing an additional strong point rather than a craft necessity. Salazar's crude jokesters are incredibly rude people demanding yet another level of undeserved forgiveness, almost but not quite sympathetic in their cluelessness. RC Harvey would approve of their visual-verbal blend, the way Salazar's style informs the written word in each gag. I would buy a whole book of such cartoons.

One way to read "I'll Wait Outside Your Room" is to start with those simple cartoons and discover expanded meanings through them in the rest of the book. A couple of comics utilize the same character type but in a more complex thematic way. Sometimes the joke is slightly more sophisticated, like one where a lonely, sloppily dressed figure looks at a city aflame as we are informed, "He forgot the baseball cards." Other times the effect is more than a joke. On one page, a figure rests on the back of a unicorn, looking blissful in a way that makes you dwell less on the cartoon and more on the person who might wish longingly for such an odd bed. Crude figures guest star in the margins of the looser pages, stick-figure remnants of what look like attempts at childhood comics making: the Stars Wars cast, the actors from Cheers, a boy in a top hat riding a cat in a mad collage or even the more advanced scene work like the one called "Kids in a line for handball."

Rather than evoking nostalgia through a standard narrative, Salazar blurs the line between what looks like ancient comics and what reads like projected commentary from a sadder, wiser creator. In one of the few multi-panel narratives in the book, two simply drawn comic characters banter and decided to go for a flight with the same sort of narrative aimlessness that the best comics done by kids have. But in the final panel, one of the characters says matter of factly, "I hope I never die." This works as both naive celebration of the youthful pursuits represented by flying around and a regretful overlay that pays tribute to lost innocence. "I'll Wait Outside Your Room" is as good as any of its similarly-themed mini-comics relatives at invoking the kind of artistic experience that comes with a box of old papers on your lap, taking too much time losing yourself in them when the rest of the garage needs cleaning.

My favorite moment in "The Monster That Ate Stars" comes early on in the story, and in fact can't be nailed down to any specific page. The very normal child with whom the comic begins slips into his tale in a wonderfully seamless fashion, starting with booming laughter and flailed arms on what might be anyone's front stoop and ending as a monster threatening everything that exists. Salazar wisely never quite lets you see the kid transform from narrator into protagonist, giving the story a much-needed tone of comedic indulgence. The story has an idealized child's momentum. It barrels through a fantasy one usually sees designed to combat feelings of adolescent inadequacy, but so dramatically and convincingly collapses in on itself that one imagines the kid at the beginning of the story prancing with joy just at holding our attention for such a long time.