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posted November 3, 2007


Creator: Brian Chippendale
Publishing Information: PictureBox Inc., softcover, 344 pages, Fall 2007, $21.95
Ordering Numbers: 9780978972260 (ISBN13), 0978972260 (ISBN10)

I'm more than a little in love with my copy of Maggots right now. I've been taking it to the gym and reading it on the machines and I sneak furtive glances at a page or two when I'm stuck at a traffic light. It's a book that's been collected from material that was done in 1996 and 1997 and promised to us through mini-comic snippets or by prospective publishers almost since that time, but I don't think it's merely factor of satisfying that great, simmering sense of anticipation that's been built. I like reading Maggots as much as I do in the way that I have been because it reminds me of my own early- and mid-20s and that's not a state of mind with which I'm comfortable spending more than a few minutes at a time.

imageMuch has been made about the origin of Chippendale's project, the way that Maggots is drawn on top of -- or into, if you prefer -- a Japanese book catalog, elements of which can be seen softly impressing themselves into white space or even incorporated into the narrative at certain points. The critic Jog looks at some of those elements and decides they make Maggots "perhaps the perfect embodiment of a major aspect of the Fort Thunder aesthetic (if you will): using the consumer society's debris as elements of creativity, transforming one lifestyle's garbage into another's art via accumulation or defacement," something he later slightly rephrases in wonderful fashion as "seizing an instrument of capital and making it radiate with personal, spiritual vision by beating the shit out of it with drawings."

I think that's true, and cleverly said, but what's really striking about this complete PictureBox edition is how you can see the effect these elements have on the reading of Maggots. Most people agree that with its looping panel arrangements, chaotic plot-lines and reduction of movement into beats, Maggots can be seen as a book about movement and motion. This printing, however, makes me reconsider its power as a textured work, something that blends a variety of layers and visual clues that work in cohesion and opposition depending on Chippendale's intent. The suggested looped reading, a kind of snakes and ladders movement back and forth down one page that's opened and then snaking back up the opposite, does keep the eye bouncing frenetically. But some of the choices made in terms of inserting entire tiers thwart that easy flow (Chippendale even apologizes for this) while the layered nature of the artwork over other graphic elements provides each page with a resistant force against which the motion works. It's not that the figures move as much as they push through their heavily inked surroundings; it's not just about movement and the energy that builds as it the figure whips from one place to another as much as the teeming energy that keeps the figures active, the sense of pullulative effort that puts things into motion. I don't know about you, but a conception of life as a series of adventures and experiences from which I moved one after the other after the other, covering someone else's tracks with my own, certain I was a part of something shared, encountering elements of violence and sex both implied and real, leading to the occasional epiphany that assaults the senses and impresses forever, that wasn't just an experience that these artists had in Fort Thunder, let alone only something little Hot Potato goes through by himself. That was at its essence a way of moving through the world with which a lot of us were stuck, a way of reducing the world to what's in front of you that I never thought I'd see on the page in quite this way. It has undeniable power.

Finally more than scattered glimpses united by promise, Maggots rewards a full reading or, if you prefer, a series of occasional dip-intos, even if its way of looking at the world remains forever foreign. It's funny on almost every page, the marks are frequently beautiful to the eye (particularly when the action expands to cover one or two pages) and in clever hands it might act as a resource for some storytelling approaches in the way that Master Race provided clues as to how one might depict time visually and compress information. You should buy one, or if you see me, ask to borrow mine.