Everything is spilled out.

The Blot

Don’t read this review just yet. Go to the book’s official page first.

There. Wasn’t that something? Just the kind of image I like to hook me on a new project.

I’m not sure if this book is available through Diamond yet. It’s a $14.95 softcover, 192 pages in b&w and color, quite beautifully designed and produced, and published by I Will Destroy You of Los Angeles, which I believe is headed by the book’s writer/artist, Tom Neely.

The Blot is Neely’s first longform comics project, though he’s had extensive experience in painting, illustration and animation, not to mention short sequential works for magazines and anthologies. As a result, this is an extremely polished, assured ‘debut,’ with excellent character art strongly reminiscent of Floyd Gottfredson (ah, a man after my heart!) and various animation pioneers. It’s not a wordless book, but you can probably count the individual lines of dialogue on your fingers; the emphasis of reading is thus thrown directly on Neely’s panel-to-panel storytelling, and he proves himself to be highly capable, carefully contorting time to provide the work with the maximum creepy, lyrical appeal, while keeping humorous chases and gags bouncing. It’s very much an animation-informed style, but it makes fine use of the expanding/contracting properties of the comics form.

It’s also the perfect approach for the book’s heavily metaphorical story; while Gottfredson also dealt with a famous Blot, Neely’s is more of a psychological/creative affliction, one embodied in perhaps the ultimate comics symbol of distress - a mighty spatter of spilled ink. The book opens with your basic early 20th century style cartoon everyman rising from bed, only to encounter many troubles with the aforementioned Blot, a staining, absorbing, mutating ocean of ink that leaps off of newsprint, saps backgrounds from pages, and, in the book’s primary creepy visual motif, spews forth from characters’ eyes and mouths. Our Hero hardly stands a chance of escape, and soon resorts to wearing a long hat over his face to keep the stuff, now inhabiting his body, from getting out. But then he meets a woman, who shows him that the affliction can be used for wonderful creation as well as destruction. And things are good, temporarily.

There are no shortage of striking graphic techniques on display in the book - opposing splash panels boldly contrast black with white, all-black chapter breaks serve (sometimes literally) as the all-powerful presence of the Blot, and hundreds of identical heads swarm around to convey the stultifying ways of society, only parting to form a vague heart shape around Our Hero and the woman, a small and uncertain oasis of attraction in the crowded world. Sometimes, Neely is more blunt - at one point, a literal mask (representing a different cartoon style, and even carrying a different lettering font) is worn to demonstrate a character’s deliberate use of cruel feelings. Color is very occasionally deployed for moments of special impact, but Blot black is dominant, and soon all the black of the pages carries the charge of symbolism - it’s that kind of absorbent book.

It’s also the type of book that never spells anything out, but I think Neely’s general drive is clear enough. The book was apparently inspired by a series of illustrations he completed over the years (check out the Art section at the above link), and I get the feeling that much of the book is explicitly about the creative process, and the seething feelings that can inhabit artists, often to distraction and personal obliteration. The Blot as ink, and all that. Some images are more potent than others in this regard - the protagonist soars through the air with his head fully ensconced in a seething pool of ink, above the heads of everyone else. He builds a house with the ink, and creates beauty. But his talents can’t stop the march of time, and the private desires of others. It’s a worrying, downcast work on the whole, suspicious of both material accomplishment and interpersonal dynamics, resolute that all an artist can really hope to do is create something so much more beautiful than themselves, that it will stand apart from the black and white of human living.

A very rich book, this. I strongly recommend it. It’s quite easy to buy directly from the author, at the link above. Hell, here it is again. Let it in, spread it around.