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Like many boys and, if the stereotype stands up to scrutiny, fewer girls, I once read comic books almost exclusively.  I rarely read superhero comics and the ones I did read I felt somewhat ambivalent about; they seemed, as I think they might to many contemporary comics aficionados, to delegitimize the medium, or just to cheapen it and validate, with their broodingly simplistic Manichean drives, the clichés that so many readily apply to comic books.  This is a rationalization long after the fact: at the time I think I was drawn to non-superhero comics not with this in mind – although it may have been lurking somewhere deeper, if still superficially, in my inclination – but simply with the seeming oddness, the foreignness, of non-superhero comics: the absence of the at least outright fantastic made the characters and events within these comics – "indie," I remember thinking of them as and hearing them called at the time; I don't know if this has since been largely abandoned, although I imagine its usage, as in all other media to which this word has been applied, has been discouraged by its practitioners and admirers – feel more real, in some sense, more intimate and empathetic; but the absurdity of much of the plots and worlds in which these otherwise realistic characters lived was attractive – and this was something I would later realize is applicable to and found in all media, really – because the absurdness was thereby made all the more real.  Many of these comics helped to open up the absurdities of quotidian life to me and make them fun and notable, whereas before they were primarily just annoying and forgettable.


I've recently been drawn back to comics, after a many-years hiatus.  Initially, it was superhero comics I was drawn to; perhaps this was because superhero comics felt new to me: I couldn't locate any significant interest in them in my youth and therefore it felt like a growth of interest as opposed to a return or, more scarily, a regression.  I asked many friends if they could recommend superhero comics to me.  One title that came up was Doom Patrol, often considered the first "dark" superhero comic, something people like Alan Moore would, with great melodrama and maudlin attempts at complexity, later further explore.  I decided to buy this and, on my way to the cash registers, I noticed a beautifully drawn cover with a slightly off-center title and a charming depiction of a one-eyed Bearskin Hat-like creature standing at the bow of a wooden ship, from the center of which sprouts a fungal profusion of interconnected Italian villa-esque houses.  The name of the comic book is Monster Parade and it is by Ben Catmull.  I ended up being much more excited about Monster Parade than Doom Patrol and feared that my comic book interest may indeed be more of a return – even, indeed, a regression – than a growth.


I have yet to make my way through Doom Patrol, but I have read the four different sections of Monster Parade several times.  Three of them are largely driven by the terrifically rendered terrains and creatures within, as a landscape of inclement weather-creating beings carry out their respective responsibilities.  One, the second, is about the arrogant Prof. Williams' trip aboard an express railway, notable for his irksome cabin-mate and a man-eating monster.  Catmull is a remarkably careful but playful draftsman and his ability to convey a consistency of tone and atmosphere despite exegetic and stylistic shifts is a wonder.  In the second section, the only one with a distinctly narrative thrust, he also displays a capacity – rare among comics artists who seem more interested in the visual and atmospheric – for well-calibrated timing and a charming admixture of quotidian and affected dialogue.  This is one of the best things I've read in a long while.


Monster Parade #2 is apparently coming out soon.  Catmull takes a great deal of time in creating and crafting each of his works – his much-adored Paper Theater is very difficult to track down, having long since its initial publication entirely sold out – and this commitment to his work results in a rare blessing for his readers.  He also works in video and film; his Leftover graveyard footage and Leftover Town Footage are both immaculately realized and, somewhat unfortunately, far more gripping than the music video for which they were put to use, in large part because the song distracts from and lessens the impact of his images.



Excerpt from Monster Parade.



Excerpt from Monster Parade.



Excerpt from Monster Parade.



Image from Monster Parade #2.



Image from Monster Parade #2.

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