Thursday, January 12, 2012
The Next Big Thing
O Plexo Holistico (2011), by Diego Gerlach. Barba Negra (Brazil).
This is why I do what I do. When you're a Noted Comics Critic you get a ton of rando emails from people who want to send you their comic. I never turn one down, but until recently I've never been quite sure why that was. Just like the ones I buy at the store, most of the comics I get sent are real awful, and then a couple are ok or even pretty good. It's cool when that happens because then I get to learn about something I wouldn't have otherwise. Still, as I said, if you'd come out and asked me at any point last calendar year why I subject my mailbox to such an utter deluge of manila-enveloped comics, I probably wouldn't have been able to verbalize why. But then last week I read the copy of O Plexo Holistico, a slickly produced magazine-format Brazilian import comic that the book's creator, Diego Gerlach, had asked about sending me a while back, and here it is. Why do I never turn an offer of a comic in the mail down? This is why.
I feel... I dunno, I feel like the record exec who stumbled into some Midlands club on some a dingy night and discovered Black Sabbath? This comic is luminous, hugely exciting work, but it's also so out of nowhere that I still have trouble figuring it out. The fact that I'm the only guy in the country with a copy only increases that perception of O Plexo Holistico as a phantom comic, something not quite real even though I can read it through and hold it in my hands.
And so, an explanation, if only so I can convince myself that this thing is really going to sit on the shelf between Nipper and 100 Bullets: this is a silent all-action comic, almost completely free of "story" as such. What replaces narrative is meticulous, intensely disciplined motion tracking, a single sixteen page fight scene planed open with a surgeon's eye, panel after pyrotechnic panel pulled from one simple chain of events. The participants in the extended smackdown are the lucha wrestler/superhero fellow featured on the book's cover and a hipster Teen Wolf type with psychic powers. What happens on the pages is simple: the hipster kid's concentration on getting wasted in a skatepark is broken by the appearance of the masked man ("Nil", if we're going by the lettering emblazoned in scotch tape across his chest), who announces himself by pissing on a wall covered in posters of a werewolf. Angered by the insult to what we don't yet know is his secret identity, the kid brains the superhero with a barrel full of garbage, and proceeds to take the physically powerful but mentally hapless figure apart with a telepathic assault barrage after switching into werewolf mode. The fight over, he shifts back into a kid with cool clothes, and that's all, folks.
It's a lot of fun, both hilarious and gripping, and pretty much any comic that goes in this intently on a single subject -- not just a feature-length fight, but a silent one, with nothing at all in the way of the acts of drawn violence -- has got something to recommend it. But for all Gerlach's kinetic blocking and high-volume impact shots, he seems at least as interested in using his epic fight scene to put on a formal show and exhibit the stunning aesthetic of his work. Up front is the book's lack of the gridded layouts so typical of art comix: rather than hitting one to the next in regimented lines, these pictures explode all over each other, multiple drawings sharing the single canvas of the full page. Gerlach never tries to cram too much into one space: most pages only feature two or three panels, but they're big ticket pictures that swagger up and demand your attention, rolling in slow so you can really feel each one's sick crunch. Once the imagess switch from physical to psychic conflict, the Kirbyist banging is replaced by a swift-flowing, deeply psychedelic stream of lines and screentones, culminating in what's sure to stand unchallenged as the year's best vomit scene. Throughout, the intent remains unchanged: these are drawings by an artist who's going for your throat via your eyes, his each panel more expressive and ruthless than the last.
Sure, this is style over substance, but that's perfectly okay -- better than that, it's pretty amazing -- when the style in question is something so fresh and unexpected. There are moves swiped from Paul Pope and Katsuhiro Otomo here, of course; after all, it's a fusion-era action comic. But much more noticeable is the inspired fusion of the detail-rich, gloriously mean style seen in the work of Rafael Grampa (the last young action-comics stunner to come out of Brazil) with a strong strain of the deep-underground, allusive, almost sadistically dark tone and raw, personal, geometric design work found in work by Providence noise-comics makers Ben Jones and CF. The deep-focus punchouts and perfectly rendered explosions of body fluid of Grampa are backed up in O Plexo Holistico not by the cliched settings of Westerns or superhero stories, but by the tortured, symbol-strewn cityscapes of the scariest art comix. And on top of all that, Gerlach has somehow managed to create what may be the first post-Jonny Negron comic, shooting his pages through with plenty of the '90s anime gestures and reverberating compositions that have come to be associated with the medium's current coolest new artist.
This glossy yellow magazine, made far outside the fractious, self-obsessed American comics scene, feels like a downright revolutionary site, a place where the divisions between what we think of as "mainstream" and "alternative" in this country disappear, or become irrelevant: Gerlach has created a deeply impressive piece of work that pulls equally from the furthest cutting edges of both. So just call it cutting edge comics if you need to call it anything, and hope we'll be seeing a lot more soon.
You can order a copy of O Plexo Holistico from its Brazilian publisher here, though I understand copies may be hitting the States in select locations at some point. You should also check out Diego Gerlach's flickr here for the most baller Spider-Man picture ever.