Autobio comics can be fun, but they can only go so far. Comics are such a time-consuming discipline, with so many hours spent hunched over a drawing board, that creators who rely on that mode either disappear up the navel of anatomizing their own process or misrepresent the few bits of their lives spent doing other things. Some creators, though, take "themselves" -- or some version of their selves and lives -- and throw that into something deeply unreal. And that can be much more satisfying.
This new graphic novel from New Zealander Horrocks -- best known in artsy comics circles for his book Hicksville, best known in the CBR world for writing Batgirl for a while -- is not about "Dylan Horrocks." As you can easily see from the title, the hero is named Sam Zabel. And the Big Two superheroine he writes is Lady Night, a mystic hero in the Dr. Fate mode. And the fantasy world he falls into is, I have to assume, not something that comes directly out of Horrocks's experience.
Though that would be pretty cool, if it did.
Any story about a creator becomes a story about creation: about making stories and being blocked and finding inspiration and working despite obstacles and the wellsprings of story and all of that jazz. Horrocks does a good version of that story here, but you're not likely to be greatly surprised at the twists of the story or the places it goes. Stories about stories are a minor genre these days, and this is a pretty good one. (You can still read a version of it -- I think it was somewhat updated and altered for book publication -- on Horrock's site.) And if telling this story re-energized Horrocks so he can tell more stories, and maybe even stories (unlike this and Hickville) that aren't about how comics are special and cool and the greatest artform in the history of the universe while at the exact same time a pitiless industry that eats its young....well, that would also be pretty cool.
This is another fantasy story, with some elements in common with Sam Zabel -- though not the connection to creative people or comics -- but I probably shouldn't emphasize that part, since those are the secrets that come out later in what's mostly a mystery plot. And it also originally appeared for free online, though its URL leads to a blank page. (You can google it yourself, if you like: I see no reason to link to nothingness.)
So a young man goes to visit his grandfather in a nursing home and is shocked to learn the old man died a month before. A noir plot then start up: a photo of the grandfather with a beautiful young woman suggests depths, then disappears; a thuggish orderly is abusing patients and has darker secrets; the young man gets obsessed and starts neglecting his job and girlfriend. But there are also prophetic dreams, of trees and beaches, and the solution to this mystery will not be mundane.
Sin Titulo is a strong story, that turns naturally from realism into fantasy and uses its noir elements -- not just plot; the layout and drawing style evoke classic strip comics and the dark alleys of old movies -- with assurance and ability.
Every series falls into ruts; every comedy finds that its running jokes stop running quite so well. I'm not saying that's definitely what's happened to this manga series, since I could have had an off day while reading these, or maybe these stories just didn't connect with me the way I hoped they would. But I am feeling that WataMote (the fan-name for the series, from the first two words of the Japanese title) is thinning out a bit, and not as exciting to me as it was before.
(Speaking of before, can I point you to my reviews of volumes 1 and 2, 3, 4, and 5?)
I don't have much more to say about these volumes: I found parts of them funny, but more opaque. It may be because this clump of story got into more Japanese-specific moments that they didn't connect with me, or maybe Tomoko's schtik is wearing on me. Either way: this was still fun, and I'll come back for another volume or two (which should see Tomoko to her graduation), but maybe not any more than that. It could be that the first few volumes are the best: that's not uncommon. And those stories still exist, and are still as good as ever.