Sunday, October 30, 2016

Incomplete Works by Dylan Horrocks

I'm happy to note that this odds-and-sods collection, gathering together a lot of short comics that Dylan Horrocks created over the past three decades, actually has a title story. Yes, Virginia, there is an "Incomplete Works," almost as if Horrocks knew he'd want that title for a collection someday and decided to stake it out back in 1989.

(And who knows? Maybe he did. Horrocks is a very meta creator -- with stories here about creation, about creators both fictional and real, and about similar ineffable things.)

Incomplete Works -- the assemblage, the one that goes in italics rather than inverted commas -- tells the story of a young man besotted with comics, in the way of a creator who discovers the art form that does exactly what he wants to do, even if he can't always make it do the things he wants to do right at that moment. He writes about fake comics-makers -- both real people who did not actually make comics (Captain Cook) and creators whose careers he entirely invents (his alter ago Sam Zabel, to begin with) -- and does so skillfully enough that when a later story was about the real but obscure New Zealand cartoonist Barry Linton, I quickly googled him to see if he was actually real.

So Horrocks is one of the comics uber alles types -- this is his form, and he loves it to death, believing that it can do all of the things he wants to do in art. (Horrocks himself has had a complicated relationship to comics, as you might expect from that stance -- see his recent Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen graphic novel for the single integrated take on that tension.) Since a man's reach always exceeds his grasp, many of the stories here -- from a long almost-farewell-to-comics in 1990 to a series of diary comics for The Comics Journal in 2012 -- are about how Horrocks, or his fictional versions, are heartbroken and disappointed by comics, or find themselves unable to live up to their own images of themselves as comics-makers.

Incomplete Works is a book of mixed melancholy and joy, one that revels in what comics can do and curses what it does do and how lines never quite do what their drawer wants them to do. It also shows Horrocks's artists development, through various styles and mediums to his current clean, precise line -- though even the earliest stories here are well-drawn, with art that works strongly to tell the stories he has at that time.

Most of us don't care about comics as much as Horrocks does. I dare say most comics creators don't care about comics as much as he does. But we can still enjoy his enthusiasm and look at the lofty heights that he demands are comics's due...even if we think he may be exaggerating a bit.

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