Friday, June 07, 2024

Disquiet by Noah Van Sciver

There are times when I don't have much to say here. I read a book, I mostly liked it, I've already read a number of things by the same creator, I don't have anything particularly new or specific to say this time.

And that sounds so horribly minimizing, doesn't it?

But "this is good stuff, in line with the same person's previous good stuff" is actually very positive. (Right? I think so, anyway.)

So, with that caveat: I just read Noah Van Sciver's 2016 collection of comics short stories, Disquiet. It's a general, miscellaneous collection - everything I've seen from him previously has been more focused, from the graphic novels Fante Bukowski and Saint Cole to the self-explanatorily themed As a Cartoonist collection.

But this one is just some stories and art Van Sciver did, over about the previous five years, collected between two covers and assembled into a plausible order. They have different tones and styles and concerns - some modern-day, some historical, one more folkloric - and they're separated by individual pieces of Van Sciver art, so they each sit separately, like objects on a shelf. I like that in a collection, frankly - with prose, it tends to be a thing of making sure there are blank left-hand pages where appropriate, and maybe icons or dingbats or similar decorative elements, but comics-makers are more likely to just have more art, that they did, which can help to divide stories from each other.

I guess I might as well take the stories one at a time:

"Dive Into that Black River" is a nearly wordless, two-page spread, more of a poster than a narrative comic. It's the opposite of "hang in there, baby!" if you think of it as a poster.

"The Lizard Laughed" is the story of one day in the life of Harvey, a middle-aged man in New Mexico, whose estranged son Nathan comes to visit. They're meeting for the first time in close to twenty years, since Harvey ran out on the family when the boy was nine. They go on a hike; the two have little in common, as you'd expect. It doesn't end the way Nathan expected, which is good for Harvey. Harvey didn't have any real expectations; he may be too self-centered for that anyway.

"it's over" is a two-pager in a straightforward confessional/realistic mode, in which a young man reconnects with an old girlfriend for a one-day fling on his thirtieth birthday - which also turns out to be a major (fictional) world-historical event.

"The Death of Elijah Lovejoy" combines a two-page text introduction to the overall life of that 1830s abolitionist with a comics retelling of the mob that attacked his printing press, burning it down and killing him. (This might be the most Van Sciverian comic here, to my eye, all sweaty/bloody men fighting for their rigid views in the19th century.)

"The Cow's Head' is some kind of fable, I think - a young woman (who has the same name as Van Sciver's then-girlfriend, who also wrote the book's introduction - possibly coincidence but I doubt it) is driven out of their rural hovel by her cruel stepmother, finds shelter, and is polite to a flying, talking head of a cow. (As you do, in fables.) This, as also happens in fables, leads to better things for her, though not for her sad-sack father.

"Down in a Hole" is a weird one, in which a former TV kid-show clown goes spelunking and is captured by the secret subterranean race of mole people. Both of those random elements are equally important, and then there's a twist ending. There's a lot going on here, and I bet there's some subtext or purpose I just didn't get.

"Untitled" is told in small-format pages - maybe it was a minicomic? - and focuses on a young woman, visiting her parents for Christmas. She lives nearby - close enough to bicycle - but rarely visits. It's a slice-of-life mood piece, so I won't try to explain the moods.

"Dress Up" is the doubly-narrated story of a good Samaritan/vigilante who foiled a robbery, as told by him to a young female reporter a little later, after the initial media furor has quieted a bit.

"When You Disappear" tells the story of a prison break, two men fleeing to New Jersey, there talking and separating. It's based on a dream, but is less "dream-logic-y" than that might imply.

"Punks Vs. Lizards" is a pulpy post-apocalyptic story about, yes, punks who battle giant  intelligent lizards that have apparently conquered the world. Our Hero defeats one particularly powerful lizard at great cost.

And last is "Nightshift," in which yet another young woman tells how she worked at a bakery overnights for a while, saving up money to get out of this unnamed town.

I found all of the stories interesting, and many of them compelling. They were aiming to do different things, and all were good at what they aimed to do (assuming I was correct). This is a probably a better introduction to Van Sciver than the two or three books of his I actually read first, if anyone thinks his work sounds interesting.

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