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Manhole #2
posted May 1, 2007
 

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Creator: Mardou
Publishing Information: Self-Published, magazine-sized mini-comic, 24 pages, Spring 2006, $4
Ordering Numbers:

*****

The second issue of Mardou's self-published omnibus Manhole leads with an impressively ambitious story called "King of It." The story and the other short in the issue, "Snapshot," read like works straight from that rich no-man's-land between fiction and autobiography. The author's confession in the comic's foreword about the first story's basis in real-world emotional truths proves almost unnecessary; I can't imagine anyone reading this comic without thinking there's some reflection of the author's life in its pages.

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In "King of It," readers follow a writer, 29 years old, through a brief trip where she cheats on her boyfriend with another writer, a person with whom she's been exchanging letters. We see the affair as it unfolds and bear witness to the lead's rapidly churning state of mind concerning what's happening to her. It's bracing how relatively complex a character progression Mardou allows her main character in a time when so many comics authors are slowing things down to depictions of single moments and specific states of mind. We see such delicate emotional states as whether or not one can know someone through their writing and that panicked, sad feeling one falls into when a personal encounter moves in ambiguous fashion between friendship and greater intimacy. In many ways, "King of It" is what most would think of as a comic with literary values. Like many prose short stories, it tracks one character's changing perceptions played out in terms of a series of experiences, perhaps all in her head, where everything including the narrator's relationship to the reader can be interpreted in multiple ways. The generosity in working on such ambiguity terms intrigues and appeals.

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As admirable as her light touch might be as a writer, Mardou's handicapped in both stories by her still-developing artistic skills. It's not that you can't tell significant or moving stories the way Mardou draws. It's that the kind of observed realism through which she portrays the personal encounters suffers for the clumsiness of the figures and the relative dearth of richness in their world. Unlike with "Snapshot," where better art would have simply augmented certain effects and moments of humor, in "King of It," Mardou loses the ability to press a specific interpretation of what's happened or suggest that all interpretations are valid -- she gets the latter by default. This puts way too much pressure on staging and dialog to communicate the story's points of emphasis. One clever formal trick with white space impresses, but it almost works against the story by suggesting a force to the narrative that's missing on other pages. The end result is that at times the writing feels forced, even cliched, putting the reader in a position similar to figuring out if a song has any power by reading the lyrics. It's a balance that Mardou hopefully one day finds and employs; I don't think she's far away from doing so.

*****

this book is more than a year old, but the artist's web site is here