Thursday, December 23, 2021

It Will All Hurt by Farel Dalrymple

We expect books to be linear: to start from Point A and get us to Point Z, hitting the other letters in between. Not all books do that, obviously: some start on Y and flash back extensively, some start at both A and N to tell two-track stories, some start at Z and run in reverse gear towards A.

Farel Dalrymple's It Will All Hurt starts at about Q and runs through Xi and Alef, among other less-definable places, ending with Omega. Now, that's largely because it's told in a near-sketchbook fashion: many of the pages here are laid out in a conventional way, but some of them just barely so, and there's a lot of "here's the characters, with bullet-point notes to myself about who they are and what's important," and transitions are either lamp-shaded by captions ("Howdy, I'm your narrator: a talking cat!") or smash-cuts between completely different scenes. [1] It has a large cast, all of whom seem to have a lot of background and details that are clear in Dalrymple's head but which never makes it near the page - thus the jumping around different alphabets, as if we're getting pieces of a dozen stories focused on the one event where they all cross.

Even the cover makes it look like a random Moleskine; Dalrymple clearly knows this is how the book is coming across and wants to make that clear.

And I don't quite get the title: it's a bit too grad-school-novel for this story of kid heroes ganging up to defeat the evil Red Wizard in what seems to be the post-apocalyptic world Dalrymple first created for The Wrenchies. Their opponent is pure evil, as the book keeps telling us: he does have a fiendish monologue, admittedly, but we don't see him do much, and the kids are largely problematic murder-hoboes themselves. So that sentiment is either a facile "fighting evil is tough, and be careful lest ye not become monsters yadda yadda" or a second-hand "life is pain, princess; anyone who says otherwise is selling something." Either way, it doesn't feel earned by the material.

Anyway, there's a whole bunch of these kids, who slowly gather. Robot Tod, Leon Fireglove, Hawk Daughter, Bee 3000, Blam Dabit, Gato Gris (our cat narrator), a few more. An alien astronaut, who as an adult isn't really part of the gang and doesn't get a name. Their leader, or the central character at least, is a girl from our world - referred to that way here, not "the world before the apocalypse" or "the past" - named Clementine Almendra. They all have weird powers, and Dalrymple shows those powers in action and occasionally has those little bullet-points on a sketchy page to explain, for example, what's the deal with Leon. (He's cursed, for one thing, but he seems to have about five other deals on top of that.)

Their scenes are separate, but they do start to gather in clumps. They have quick adventures, fighting things and traveling across this broken landscape. Meanwhile, the Red Wizard has scenes in which he also fights things, and we're told he's the villain. He doesn't start monologuing until he meets the kids; he doesn't seem any worse than anyone else in the book when Dalrymple tells us he's the baddie.

There is a big fight. It ends as we expect it will, and the gang breaks up again. There's a weird underlying feeling that It Will All Hurt is a Dalrymple-verse version of a big comics event crossover; as if they all had their own books and return to them after spending this time with the Beyonder or the Anti-Monitor or whatever.

I liked all of the pages of It Will All Hurt without engaging deeply with it at any point. It does feel like the pieces that could be turned into a story more than that actual final story, but I think that was the way Dalrymple wanted to do it: open, free-form, loose-limbed, expansive rather than closed off. It is successful at what it aims to do, but what it aims to do is quirky and likely not that popular.

The Wrenchies was quirky; this ramps that up a couple of orders of magnitude. I think Dalrymple has done more conventional comics as well recently - this was originally serialized on the web, and a couple of references to "new panels" makes clear who it was conceived and perceived - so maybe I'll take a look at those. Dalrymple's art is interesting; he's particularly good at empty space on a page. His characters are specific people, even when we only get partial views of them, as here. I can't quite recommend this except to people who really like experimental comics, but I can recommend Dalrymple in general: he does odd, quirky stuff and is someone to keep an eye on.

[1] There's also a lot of ancillary matter in this book, which all seems to be sketchbook pages: the story ends almost thirty pages before the end of the book, and there's at least a half-dozen similar pages at the beginning of each of the individual issues collected here. Extracting just the story pages could cut It Will All Hurt down to about half its length.

No comments:

Post a Comment