Monday, December 27, 2010

Matter Summer Special

By Philip Barrett
Published by Sparkplug Comic Books

If something has a publisher does it really count as a minicomic/zine anymore? Do I even care at this point after three hundred and fifty something reviews?

The Matter Summer Special is different from the other comics by Philip Barrett that I’ve read (and reviewed on this site). Instead of featuring a number of shorter works focussing on (fairly) realistic stories devoted to obsession and neurosis, we have a long (over seventy pages!) story dealing with parallel dimensions.

The story starts with something we all* love: casual drug use! Whitey White (the cover character who is lacking anything but an outline and a face) and Sean Brown are hanging out in their living room, smoking up a storm and discussing the usual things people in that situation discuss (conspiracy theories). Then suddenly we’re in a corporate lab, and some scientists are telling their boss that they may have managed to grow some sort of new super drug with possible dimension-hopping properties. Then we have a montage of some angry looking gentleman beating up a number of other people, and the reader is left wondering how all of this is going to connect together.

Somehow Barrett makes it work, and the various story threads begin to intertwine. Not all of it is completely successful, but the way seemingly different stories connected to tell a whole reminded me of Jack Staff (and strangely there are a few places where the art even reminded me of Jack Staff creator Paul Grist’s style).

Barrett’s storytelling approach in this comic is interesting as he generally avoids the use of panel borders, or even coherent panels. Characters and speech balloons appear on the small pages seemingly wherever they can fit, while backgrounds are frequently nonexistent, leaving the characters to float in featureless voids. Yet this method allows for some interesting techniques, helping to create a claustrophobic feeling to the whole story. Huge heads loom over smaller people, showing positions of power and authority, humans are reduced to repeated specks in order to show that time is passing, and that nothing is really being accomplished, abstract figures are repeated in various forms to help show what characters are experiencing (see below), and characters are reduced to black blotches when they are unable to understand each other.

The story itself reminded me at times of Deep Sleeper (by Phil Hester and Mike Huddleston) and that issue of Sandman about the city that dreams. I enjoyed the paranoia, the secret agents, the parallel dimensions, and the various techniques that Barrett used. I feel that it will benefit from multiple readings, and plan on reading it again soon. You should read it too!

*Okay, not all of us. 365 Zines neither condones nor condemns casual drug use, but likes it when it’s treated in a way other than “drugs are bad”. I mean, who wouldn’t take mutant growth hormone if they lived in the Marvel Universe? Super powers!

(Unfortunately, due to the thickness of the zine, scanning pages was a little difficult. This is a two page spread from near the middle of the comic. Click to embiggen.)

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