Sunday, July 5, 2009
Hey CC faithful, Frank Santoro here this week with a riff on Mat Brinkman’s Multiforce. How do you write a review about someone as influential as Mat? You don’t. Well, I don’t. Won’t. Writing about Teratoid Heights would be one thing, but a Multiforce collection? Kill me now. If I do a straight review, it’ll be 5000 words. I’ve got that much to say about this book. It’s terrifyingly good and an indispensable record of possibly the most important serialized comics of the post-Ware era.
And I’m not just saying that—cuz honestly I usually prefer Brinkman the artist—the poster designer, the sculptor, the installation artist, the “draw-er”—to Brinkman the cartoonist. I could appreciate the touch and accuracy evident in the comics but … I just didn’t feel like diving in, I guess. I’d seen his first collection, Teratoid Heights, and liked it but liked it like I like most silent Jim Woodring comics. I always think, “Wow, that’s beautiful,” then flip through it in two seconds and put it down. So I mostly engaged Brinkman’s comics this way. A lot. Even when I’d see a stray Paper Rodeo laying around, I’d just read a few of the gag cartoons within Multiforce—I wouldn’t really sit with it for any real amount of time. Sometimes I’d quickly decode the sequencing and be impressed by the architecture of it all, but I still never dove in. The water looked really deep.
I guess I was more interested then in studying the other side of the Fort Thunder coin: Chippendale. Chipper’s formal grid appealed to me, then as it does now, as something to contain the energy and vitality of the drawing. Brian’s comics often fix the reader’s eye upon the protagonist and then MOVES the reader through the corridor of action sort of like a single-POV video game.
In contrast, Brinkman pulls the camera back and allows the architecture of his world to UNFOLD in its own time, at its own pace. By doing so it feels to me as though the narrative action turns back in upon itself which opens up numerous readings. The pace slows down as one sequence SCALES into the next, alternating and differentiating each moment while maintaining the whole. Brinkman creates CENTERS of visual interest and of narrative importance that ROOT the progression of the panels and map the way for the reader. The reader accumulates the story through this natural unfolding and “spiraling” back rather than being MOVED through the space like Chippendale.
So, Multiforce. Seeing the strips together completely altered my feelings towards Brinkman’s comics. I could see the complexity of his page layouts (when I would read each installment separately) but I never dreamed how beautifully it would all fit together as a serial comic strip. Each strip forms a section of the map which permits the reader to navigate the startling jumps in scale.
Got it? Great. Basically, it’s all set up for Mat to showcase his drawing chops. But instead of going all out and just wowing the audience with carefully trained money shots, Brinkman organically spins a line of thought that spiderwebs ‘cross the page. Up, down, diagonally, inside and out, piece by piece, branch by branch the story of the Micromen and Giants spirals in upon itself and unfolds according to an incredibly articulated framework of panels and gag cartoons that run parallel to each other. This is not the steady beat and sheets of sound of Chippendale, this is some haunting vibration of cosmic strings.
And truly do the lines vibrate. Brinkman seems to be concerned with how the drawings “read.” Crisp lines, fuzzy Xeroxes, greys, blacks, noisy whites. What’s created is a language and a “vibration” for each character and each set-piece. It’s an appealing mix because the characters and the landscape really interact. This interaction creates a deep pool of activity. Our view as readers isn’t limited to a single POV, so we can choose each view. Citadel City pulses and breathes, it’s a stellar coral reef, inviting us as readers to stop and watch the aquarium contained within the page.
I really just sit and stare. It feels like reading a Sunday page comics section. But it’s all one artist, all one story. Sorta Quimby the Mouse, over-sized Acme Novelty Library in that way, if you will. Multiforce has that level of visual complexity. I am overwhelmed by that information and then drawn in by the playfulness of the story. (And contrary to some critical readings of Brinkman, there is story in spades. I’m so tired of folks saying Fort Thunder artists didn’t tell stories.) I’m freely moving my eye around the page like I am looking at an abstract painting. And what happens is I spy a simple gag cartoon that is embedded within the flow of the story, like the gag might just float free, panel-less beneath a larger grid. These vignettes, these parallel lines of thought and narrative reinforce each other and allow the story to breathe. It all moves forward, spinning in time like a living breathing world. LOOK:
The other thing for me is that this “serial Sunday page” comic speaks to me because it’s of my time, of my generation. It speaks to me more than Herriman, or Gould, or Crane for that matter. I think it’s a testament to Brinkman’s insight as a cartoonist of his time that he chose to do large format serialized comics at the moment in comics history right before all these reprint books of old serial strips are being published. He’s plugged in to the vibe, man. He, like Ware, wrestled the large format back from the dustbin of history and brought a new energy to very specific compositional and narrative “strategies” that have been laying dormant in contemporary comics for decades. I swear it reads like a multi-track recording, a harmony, some way of composing and executing that reinforces the story and, for the last time, spirals the narrative upon itself. I find it unbelievably sublime and appealing to read.
And everyone knows that the spiral contains all of the possible geometrical formations, right? So this is no pudding-school comic. The pieces of the multifaceted storyline grow together and create a life of their own. The web that’s fastened is a solid structure, a jewel that reflects each point of the story as it turns. Like some galaxy contained in an aquarium, Multiforce vibrates beyond the comic book page. Mat Brinkman may be the spiral architect of this generation of cartoonists.