Day of Fate

*Media Dept: Got a spare hour and six minutes stashed away? Then how about Werner Herzog’s 2000 German television documentary Wings of Hope? All about plane crashes, miraculous survival, inexplicable drive, and the ties that bind us beyond our grip of perception.

Monster Parade #1

This is a new one from Fantagraphics, a showcase series for writer/artist Ben Catmull. It’s the kind of book that you’d probably never realize you wanted to see until it actually shows up, mainly because it’s unique enough that you couldn’t possibly conjure the details on your own.

It’s structured a bit like a one-man anthology (albeit one that’s 32 pages long, at $3.95), and not just in that there’s a variety of stories; Catmull does a handy job of switching up his visual and narrative style with each piece, lending each of the comic’s three segments a uniquely eccentric feel. You can glimpse bits of all three portions in Tom Spurgeon’s feature on the book, along with interview comments by Catmull linking the project to his love for horror films, illustration, and pulp art. This isn’t the sort of comic you’ll want to read for its overflow of traditional plotting; rather, it’s built for those who seek to appreciate moment-by-moment humor and vivid drawings of bizarre creatures romping around.

As if to underscore this, the book’s first segment, Winter Storm (which recurs at a later point) has no words whatsoever. It’s nothing but a young fellow wandering through a field and witnessing strange creatures emerge from the weather: four-armed men throwing lightning and puffing out wind, some sort of trotting bird/sheep hybrid, and even a mighty sky whale. It’s really more of a framing sequence then anything, as it leads directly into all of the book’s other stories, and provides kind of an environment for the rest of them to grow in. The spotting of a train riding through the storm leads into Monster Express, a funny bit of business involving one Prof. Williams, who is stuck sharing his compartment with an increasingly irritating man while a strange creature wreaks havoc in the hallway outside. But as it would perhaps go in Buñuel, the Prof. cannot stand to be irritated (and he has to use the toilet), enough so that he’s willing to risk life and limb rather than sit through another conversation about whale vomit or bears crapping in hotel lobbies.

It’s Catmull art that really sells this, as the first story’s vividly gloomy ink and sprawling landscapes gives way to a pungently colored chamber piece, with lots of wiggly character drawings and nicely paced variations on eight-panel grids. Quite recognizably the work of one man, but intent on drawing out the variations in different facets of a fantastic world. The comic’s third story, Civilization Studies Illustrated, even takes on an explicit tone of exploration, offering up a narrated tour of a very strange town, one with bears intermittently pooling into the streets (note the connection above), odd sea beasties clogging the waters (learn what to eat and what not to!), and all sorts of monsters sometimes helping, sometimes hindering the human populace. It’s often wonderfully creepy in its visuals of imaginative grotesqueries interrupting human business, but maintains a distinctly dry outlook on things; this is a monstrous world, after all, and the people in it see little that’s strange about their everyday lives.

Rather, they’ve simply lived to learn with eight-breasted winged demons bursting in on them while they’re on the toilet - and is there any better illustration for the fantastic imposing itself on the mundane? It’s good enough that Catmull goes for the juxtaposition twice, and Catmull's good enough that nothing feels repeated. I'll await more from this series.