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posted November 17, 2009
Bodega Distribution, softcover, 120 pages, 2009, $10
I wouldn't be surprised if Jesse Moynihan's latest from Bodega Distribution slips onto a few best of year lists, although I'll be damned if I could say where Follow Me
will place on my own. In what I believe is a continuation from an earlier, overarching story called Backwards Folding Mirror
-- Follow Me
itself contains a single story expressed through several short pieces -- Moynihan casually blends multiple, major approaches to modern alt-comics. The basic template hews most closely to a classic Gary Panter story, perhaps by way of Chester Brown, where a hero traverses a frequently abstract landscape and struggles with self-transformation and potentially transcendent monster encounters. There are also elements of Fort Thunder and friends-style drawing in the way the fantasy elements are depicted and in the general narrative flow, the way actions are broken down into component parts. Pushing things further into uncharted territory, our protagonist is a classic, disaffected, irritated young person who struggles greatly with what he wants and against the general ennui of his life.
Moynihan is skilled with most of the storytelling elements with which he's engaged. It's hard not to enjoy yourself reading his comics: they're frequently funny, oddly yet appealingly drawn, and the moment to moment work tends to be strong throughout. I would gladly read an entire book of our cone-hat wearing lead's troubles with his girlfriend and constant excuse-making in terms of making anything resembling a basic, engaged choice; ditto a book full of stories like the sequence where he escapes the monstrous, visual representation of a cold by hiding underwater. I think you can enjoy the book for the pleasure and humor it brings.
There are clearly stabs at deeper meaning, however. I'm not sure that I always kept up. In traveling from domestic issues to cosmic ones, from a kind of observed, magical realism to an arch representation of ideas central to life and reality, I have to admit I had a hard time keeping track of the basic vocabulary Moynihan spends time building. Part of it is that unlike other alt-comics fantasists, Moynihan has a very smooth, appealing line. It's hard not to shoot through his panels in much more rapid fashion than his ragged-line antecedents, work from artists where the individual drawing captures your attention. The tension in Moynihan's work comes less from friction in the drawings vs. comics narrative progression but in the form of his conflicted narrator and the events that should perhaps draw him out in some fashion. This is great within individual scenes, but may handicap making connections between the short stories through which the general narrative is assembled. I found it difficult to lock in on the pairings and the visual ideas he presents in a way that was accessible to me when they returned later on. The end result is I'm sure something awesome happened, but I'm not sure what: a state of mind not to different from the characters at time. All things considered, I'd rather be a step and a half behind a comic than way out in front of one.