I wrote this review in my notebook a few days after SPX this year. Recently, I thought about posting it, and as I was assembling this, Patrick Markfort wrote an excellent review of it over at Comics-and-More. But I thought I’d post mine anyway. So here goes: Maybe I’m biased but my favorite SPX comic so far has been Brian Chippendale’s Galactikrap #2. This comic sort of got lost in the shuffle after Maggots was released and I think that’s too bad. It’s an awesome standard digest-sized 52-page black + white mini-comic with two card-stock silkscreen covers stacked on top of each other. The story begins on the inside front cover, so the second cover is actually page two of the story, but the feel of the book is that there are two covers — you know what I mean, geez.
As I said, the story begins on the color pages — it made me think of some Japanese manga where the first and last few pages of the book are colored with a limited palette, while the rest is in black-and-white. (When I mentioned this to Brian he said that’s what he was going for a little bit) It’s especially nice because the color section informs the B+W section and lets me re-imagine how the B+W pages might look in color. It’s an interesting tension and one that Chipps has in much of his work, but not often as directly as in this particular comic. The open, playful colors also really help to “open” up the dense B+W panels. I can see it all in a new light.
Brian is economizing in new ways by “fixing” the page layout & moving the reader THROUGH the panels very directly. The depth of focus is deeper & wider than usual for him. He fills the frame with focused “speed lines” and mark-making. Nothing new but it seems to me this is a different Chipps than Ninja or Maggots. I think his poster and collage work are more center stage here and in service of the comic’s narrative velocity (and responsible for it in many ways). Brian’s always frenetic but here it’s a focused energy that is well organized with diamond-like precision. The action scenes throttle by with unheard of speed and terror.
Terror? Well, it’s like Brian can create this labyrinth of locales, of settings that feel very real and solid. He renders livable landscapes that teem with energy and scope. And when shit goes down in these mutant sci-fi worlds, I feel present, there. It’s uncanny. I think Brian has absorbed this single-camera point-of-view from certain comics and early video games, and that view has mutated into this buzzsaw that cuts away view after view of worlds unseen and hidden. It’s like you’re inside Brian’s notebook when you’re reading Galactikrap — and the stories are playing on an animated reel that just keeps rolling.
The comic is broken up into three sections, more or less. The first section could be read as a sorta Seinfeld momentary mishap, or it could read as a window on to a class struggle — strip away the mutant sci-fi futurepast setting, and it’s a story about consumers getting fucked over by the MAN. It tells the story of Su Long, a cute girl with a funny hat, trying to buy a muffin with her debit card. Her card gets denied. She rattles off her 35-digit account number to customer service over her “cellie”, and is told that her card has been deactivated because she recently made several purchases in a “strange part of town.” So the bank puts her card on hold because of suspicious activity. Su informs the customer service agent that because of this she’s now stranded in said strange part of town “with no money and no way home. And no muffins.”
This section is laid out in a way that creates a grid when the comic is held open — two same size gutterless panels per page. This is repeated for most of the comic — and when it does change, the layout goes full-page. The POV of the “muffin story” is also fixed — a medium shot of the muffin stand, the proprietors, & the customers. Figures come in and out of the frame, and the stationary shot of the transaction gives it, well, a stillness, and a sort of deadpan sitcom tone that works quite well. The characters’ expressions and dialogue create a subtle play of tensions and genuine laughs that reminds me of The Simpsons somehow.
The stillness and dry humor of the muffin section perfectly sets the table for the second section, which is an action bonanza that really must be seen to be believed. These are bigger, fuller panels. I believe they are drawn smaller, & that Brian’s enlarging his images much like he does in a lot of his poster and collage work. Consequently, the panels open up and because the panel structure is still fixed, the narrative breathes in ways I don’t normally associate with Brian’s pages.
There’s enough air for the action to really catch fire in the second section. A sewer devil has stolen a mother’s baby, and the Deep Cutz Force, a three member “pitch black ops team” goes after them. Sent by the military to gather children for “covert use, parent surveillance, foster home directionals, high school white washes, super soldier experiments and the needs of the State.” Fuck yeah! This is my kind of comic.
Deep Cutz Force takes off through the sewers, and meets up with the devils for a showdown. Clear and precise, yet open and free, here Brian is less concerned with mark-making just for the sake of it and instead appears focused on using the lines and his customary ballz-out approach to move the reader through the story. The pages fly by. The force of the lines and the movement and action of the characters are remarkably staged in this section. It all comes together beautifully and is executed with a certain skill that I feel is above and beyond Ninja. The action explodes at the tail end of the fight scene when Raw Star, a cute girl with cool hair and hot hands, shows up to blast a devil in half. But where is the child? Behind a well-guarded door that leads us to section three.
The third section opens up with some Teamy Weamy members trying to find a public bathroom. They try to use Snakezilla’s bathroom which is, like, a giant store in a building shaped like Godzilla. Only the assembled team is tricked by a member of Gang Gloom who slugs them with a bat, and sends them flying into a trap door beneath Snakezilla. The comic ends with a cliffhanger of the characters falling into a bottomless pit. These last two pages are printed in color on the heavier silkscreen covers.
Is it genre stuff, like a mainstream comic? Not really but close. Brian can do what no one else can do. Look close: it’s Brian’s TONAL perception that allows him to “see” these drawings, these movements, and fix them to the page. What’s fixed really is the SOUNDTRACK of the narrative. The marks, the velocity of his lines and the organization of space and movement — it’s musical. One’s eyes know (and one’s body feels) the BEAT and moves with the drawings. Rolling, rolling. Sort of like manga, sort of like some American action comics, but it’s effortless here, very much like the clearest manga but more like a John Coltrane blowout version of it or something. Brian’s playing the song sideways — he’s more like Yokoyama, really, than anyone else in American comics. I think Yokoyama’s work is the clearest of all manga I’ve come across; it’s musical to me, and it even almost looks like sheet music. The reader’s eyes follow the symbols and marks so fluidly that it creates a completely different experience, for me, than reading almost all other comics. There is a similar BEAT that moves the reader through Chippendale’s Galactikrap, one thats been there since Maggots. So just as Yokoyama is using the form to tell his futurepast adventure stories, so too does Brian use genre trappings to get at the heart of the movement, the action, the beat.