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posted August 13, 2009
PictureBox Inc., oversized 22-page comic with paper cover, 2009, $15
There's this interesting conversation that takes place around the works of Fort Thunder alumni like Mat Brinkman and everyone that can be lumped in with them that we're seeing again with Brinkman's still-new and awesome to behold Multiforce
. Like most discussions in comics, it's settled fairly quickly into extremes. One side dismisses or even praises works like this one for its textural or decorative elements, asserting that the narrative -- if one can even be found -- suffers from being overly obtuse. The other side slams their meaty fist into rhetorical hand and proclaims Brian Blessed-style that all Fort Thunder alumni are so into narratives they practically wear jerseys with the word "narrative" on the back and the people who can't see this are either refusing to do so or are flat-out dopes. It's still a compelling discussion, even when the participants are in two different rooms bellowing at one another through the walls. Is there a right way to read a cartoonist? What do we mean when we talk about narrative and story? It's also a way of looking at such works much preferable to the previous discussion of the cartoonists making them. That dialogue started out as an exploration of different ways of doing comics by people not accustomed to thinking that way, and soon became a shouting match over whether or not this type of comics maker was a group of absolute charlatans or Christ's own art colony.
I think the argument over quality has been largely decided in favor of the artists, including and perhaps even most of all Mat Brinkman. (I'm certain there are holdouts.) The narrative question I think may come down to individual examples feeding a wider snapshot. Multiforce
features several plot-lines that play themselves out across its scant pages and generates a fair amount of narrative drive as a result. You can follow the goings-on of individual characters the way you might watch different players on a large map inching this way and that, or the way one may view any movie or read any book that bounces between multiple protagonists. At the same time, the strengths of the book seem to lie primarily in the various artistic effects on display. You not only can
own this book and never dig out a proper story while still enjoying the heck out of its look and moment-to-moment work, I think you have
to process the way the visuals work to more fully understand it. Even the most compelling plot points in Multiforce
are less about the fates of certain individual characters and more concerned with the effect of violence on cityscape and the perceptions of its population. There's a story here, but it's not always an easy one to grasp. In terms of the relationship of characters and environment, it's more Samuel Beckett's Lord of the Rings
than it is a video game explored on paper. Multiforce
has story, but not the kind Robert McKee or his comics equivalent would choose to break down in front of a class. The work is grander for it.
For me, Multiforce
intrigues most as a story about spiraling orgies of violence perpetrated against city and community, where the rules of civilization actually impede any of the characters from becoming significant agents of change. The characters we meet are either too weak, too conflicted, too obedient or too crazy to do anything beyond what some external force has decided they need to do or what their appetites or programming informs them should be their next action. Much of this unfolds as comedy, both in the pea-brained, non-logic of certain characters' actions and in a dizzying array of asides and stand-alone humorous moments that add needed texture and context to the slowly-unfurling Armageddon. With so much at stake, the landscapes and cities and constructs become objects at the heart of the story rather than items that facilitate one. Brinkman's work with different kinds of visual feels blends the accomplishments of man and nature. The characters frequently wind their way through some beautiful, now-threatened area by train or through the air. The engineering requirements all by themselves of what they see the further they go seem far beyond anything the survivors as we know them might hope to rebuild. If something carved out of rock is at risk, if a long journey can be interrupted by the off-hand twitch of a fight between two terrifying giants over I don't know what, what hope does flesh and blood have? More than any other story I've read this year, finishing the book seems like its own artistic act. This is the way the world ends: you smash it, you flee it, you do your job in full-out denial, you struggle with self if you're lucky... and then you close the cover.