Sunday, April 01, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #91: Ted McKeever's Meta4

Well, this is going to be difficult to write about. Let's see if I can figure out a way into it. Maybe facts are a way to begin.

Ted McKeever is a quirky, idiosyncratic comics creator, who started out with deeply personal, bizarre books like Transit and Eddy Current but eventually, like so many before him, gravitated to drawing superhero comics for the Big Two, presumably because he liked eating regularly and keeping a roof over his head. (We all like that, don't we?)

On one of his returns from that world of commerce, in 2010, he put out another quirky, personal comics series, in five individual black-and-white issues. That was Ted McKeever's Meta4, collected into one volume a year later.

The story is driven as much by images as by plot, with events that may be real or may be symbolic -- or both. And what it all "means" is subject to interpretation: McKeever may have some specific ideas in mind, but he made comics pages that are deliberately cryptic and opaque. Every reader may come out of Meta4 with a different idea; many of them may have the idea "this is not for me at all." And that's all fine.

What happens? A man in a space suit -- call him an astronaut -- is at Coney Island, amnesiac. He is befriended/saved/abducted/overwhelmed by a large bald woman in a Santa Claus suit, who eventually lets him know her name is Gasolina. (Her speech, in the comics, is presented only in dingbats.) He has scars, markings on his body that she is sure is a map. So she burns down her tattoo shop and the two of them hop, hobo-style, into a boxcar to head west and find our the spaceman's secrets. His name, maybe, is Bzoma, from a receipt in his pocket. What they find out west is a secret government project, obviously, but they don't quite get there and phantasmagorical things happen in the vicinity. The story ends with images of the spaceman, naked in the wilderness, with a mark on his head that makes him look really oddly like Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan. (Perhaps the whole thing is a metaphor about McKeever's time in corporate comics? I doubt it's as simple as that.)

There's also a female pilot, who the spaceman may have seen die as a boy -- may have caused her plane crash by throwing a rock. And there's radio dialogue from police and their dispatchers responding to some mass shooting incident, where they can't find the shooter.

Again, all of that may be real, or metaphorical, or both at once. It may all be connected, or separate. It may what you believe it is, or it may be what McKeever wanted it to be. It may be art, or it may be a confusing mess. You get to decide.

I found McKeever's art here to be amazing, working with all of the tools of ink and white space, light and dark -- from scratchy pen lines to inky blobs, from super-realistic to ultra-cartoony. As you might have guessed, I connected less with the story: there's clearly something here that McKeever wanted to put out, but it's not presented in any way I can make clear, to myself or anyone else.

If you like experimental, weird comics, McKeever is someone to dive into. If you hate that kind of stuff, though, you will probably not enjoy his work.

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