Some "Gimmick"s, With Surreality and Hints of Danger

"Gimmick Illustrated" #1 from Beekeeper Cartoon Amusements (i.e. from Jason Little!)

Where is the nation that speaks this odd language, where frogs hop through the city's alleyways, a nation with craters in the streets, and heart-breaking poverty?

Perhaps it is nowhere but in the fevered mind of comicsmith Jason Little and the pages of his new story "VLAK" in "Gimmick Illustrated", which premiered at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival last month.

Simpler in visual style than much of Little's past work, all black and white and simple, cartoony figures, each panel has a photo-frame-corner shape to match the shape the comic-book itself is cut down to. (Makes me think about the paper printouts in TV's "Battlestar Galactica".) The unique shape and size of the comic makes for a strange feeling of the macabre, like a dark comics nickelodeon.

Quite honestly, the plot advances very little for a first issue. A man loses his hat, buys a new one, boards a train, discovers a pornographic image inside his new hat... and begins to masturbate with it. The fun is in the character moments, the embarrassed looks on the main character's face for instance are priceless. The horror is in the things he discovers along the way.

Little has chosen a very strange pattern of panel-layouts with which to tell his story. Each page's panels move not rectal-linearly like comic-strips, but circular-linearly like old medieval manuscript sequential illustrations. Clockwise on some pages. Counter-clockwise on others. The result is pretty confusing upon first reading: Which panel is Panel One, the one on the top-left or the one on the bottom-left? The reader might be able to get acquainted sooner if each layout moved the same way. Small visual cues like a leaf blowing in the wind or the sound effects of the train chugging along the track serve to direct the reader's eye, but the trick doesn't always work. The panel layouts do feel like a "Gimmick".

To me, the highlight is the page with a large panel in which the main character opens what he hopes is the door to another compartment of the train, only to discover: two men feeding the train's fire with BOOKS.

Truly disturbing.

Especially in concert with the symbol on the side of the train seen five pages earlier: a star with blocky angular lines splayed from the tips.

Look closer.

'Where are we dear readers?' I hear Little asking us. I suspect he will tell us more in "Gimmick Illustrated" #2 and 3, which will give us the continuation of "VLAK".

There's a shortage of plot and a confusing panel structure at work here BUT there are also very intriguing hints of future plot points. The idea of a combined Communist-Nazi country setting for a surreal sexual spy-thriller? Count me in.


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