Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Review: Obsolete-Mikkel Sommer
Obsolete by Mikkel Sommer is another lovingly put together mini comic in Nobrow's 17x23 range (I reviewed Ben Newman's Ouroboros here) which compared to some of Nobrow's other input is much more complete when it comes to an actual story. Nobrow being a comics publisher with a slightly unorthodox (but not alltogether inappropriate) background in screenprinting, illustration, and pattern they tend to vere away from graphic novels or lenghty detailed stories in favour of visually interesting and largely wordless mini packages, although as you will see by the end of this review I have been forced to rethink my initial evaluation of them. Mikkel Sommer first appeared on the Nobrow rosta via the assault-on-the-senses colourful creation myth anthology that is A Graphic Cosmography, the biggest thing that Nobrow have put out so far, and well worth a look at.
The story centres on two US army officers who have just finished their tour of duty in Afghanistan (its hard to say for sure without words to confirm it but the huge barren dessert landscapes see more reminiscent of Afghanistan over Iraq) and homes in on one of them in particular as he is struggles to sleep at night, and is haunted by the ghosts of what he has seen there. He and his accomplice, perhaps disillusioned with America as a force of great and good since there involvement in the war, prepare to rob a bank. The reasons and motivations for this are never properly explained, this is a comic that forces us to use our imagination and read between the lines, which for me is always a good thing. There are people who perhaps look down on comics because whereas with novels you have to form pictures out of the words, whereas with comics this is already done for you, some may say making the act of reading a particularly lazy one. But there is still a lot of stuff that happens between the gutters (the white space between panels for the uninitiated) that we have to use our heads to figure out. A successful comic is one that doesn't make this process too painful yes, but this doesn't make comics any less worthy. Anyway, I digress.
Just before the robbery we see both protagonists downing a mixture of pills and alcohol both to psyche themselves up and obviously as a way of relieving at least a small amount of the psychological trauma of their recent pasts. The robbery itself goes horribly wrong as a security guards attempts to play the hero, which leads the main protagonists partner to shoot everyone in the room bar one, as at this point our main anti-hero cries out for him to stop. It turns out that the one person left standing is his sister, or most likely due to his psychological state and the fact that a flashback/old photograph technique is employed here, is someone who reminds him of his sister. The girl is subsequently killed as a harsh punishment for his hesitation, and by now we know who is the more heartless and brutal of the two. This is why I call him an anti-hero, he has been warped by circumstance, permanently scarred. It seemed he never intended to kill, in fact the only time he does is when he kills his partner out of rage for what he has just done. He then carries the girl to his car and being pursued by the police, kills himself. You can tell that for him the end is welcome, and perhaps this was his destination all along. The comic ends with a fantastic mirroring of the final panel of him lying in bed wide awake panicked, with him lying on a cold metallic stretcher, dead, in the morgue. But a close up on his face reveals a look of peaceful contentment.
Visually Obsolete is stunning, rendered in fleshy sweat and sun-drenched watercolours. It immediately reminds me of Flemish comic artist Brecht Evans (whose graphic novel The Wrong Place is well worth a look) albeit with much more realistically depicted figures and scenes. The pacing is very interesting, it has an almost hopeless drugery to it, as if everything is inevitable from the start. It doesn't suffer from being too melodramatic, or action packed. Subtle details like the burn marks left by the destruction of their passports and papers mirroring the Rorschach test in the post-Afghanistan medical they are given at the beginning of the comic, really add to the atmospheric weight of the story.
This little comic leads me to reevaluate and praise the direction in which Nobrow is heading, establishing themselves as much more than just a publisher of trendy (and because of that, sometimes derivative) screenprinters and illustrators. With emerging talents such as Luke Pearson and Rob Hunting producing more narrative based work for Nobrow as well as them branching out into unorthodox children's literature (S.J Donaldson and Bjorn Rune Lie's The Wolfs Whistle looks particularly appealing) Nobrow is very much establishing itself as part of the big three of the UK independent comics publishers (the other two of course being Self Made Hero and Blank State Books). One to watch, and if Mikkel Sommer produces a full lenght work, I will devour it almost immediately, and I would recommend you do the same!
Check out Sommer's blog here and site here.