I happen to be one of the most enthusiastic movie fans on the planet Earth today. Seriously, I think I’ve found something worthwhile in just about everything I’ve seen, but the one area of storytelling I’ve always struggled with is the silent film. It isn’t that I have no respect for these pictures because I have plenty; in fact, I can’t even begin to imagine how those storytellers of old managed to convey so much plot, character, and emotion without the use of dialogue. Sure, they could make creative use of those type-placards, as well as some exercise some control over mood through the choice of musical accompaniment, but to my untrained eyes and ears it all seemed so elusive, so nebulous, that I figure it just wasn’t for me.
Then – about a decade ago – I saw Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking METROPOLIS for the very first time, and I suffered a massive paradigm shift. I was downright gob-smacked by the film’s composition of elements. I was utterly taken about at the complexity of ideas contained in the tale. I was dazzled by the use of light and shadows and set construction. I had never seen anything like it, and I honestly figured I never would again, I’d never find something filled with the magic and mystery and mayhem without the use of words capable of stirring that muse deep inside my generally critical soul.
Earlier this morning, Gustavo Duarte served me up another epiphany.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Despite the inclusion of my usual disclaimer above, I’m not going to spoil anything here. I’ll be happy to give the usual plot synopses – the first story involves a man undergoing perhaps the same kind of epiphany I have today, but his is perhaps a bit darker, involving light and darkness and aliens and UFOs and (dare I say) chickens (!!!); the second serves up lighter fare (though no less inspired) about two birds who arguably have the worst day they could ‘at the office’; and the third (my personal favorite) is a kind of ‘fish story’ about the big one that didn’t get away. It’s brilliant on so many levels that I’d almost encourage you to start reading the book from there … but why spoil it? Better yet: save the best for last, as this collection has cleverly done.
Like Lang did for me in his look ahead into a brave new world, Duarte shows us our very own with these fables about foibles, and all of it is accomplished without the use of a single word. Granted, there is dialogue of a sorts between these characters, but it’s a cleverly nuanced use of pictures that the artist uses to convey an idea, not a specific set of nouns or verbs and adjectives. The reader easily ‘gets the gist,’ and he’s free to fill in the blanks all on his own. And isn’t that a startling use of freedom injected into the piece? Do you know that many accomplished storytellers who’d allow his (or her) audience to make it up as they go? Duarte is giving you the benefit of the doubt, allowing you to be as smart as he is in the act of ‘experiencing’ the plot as it unfolds, and I thought that was unquestionable genius here.
Stylistically, his renderings of these people, its things, and these concepts are as wackily obtuse as the themes he’s explored, so all of this meshes together in a way that I found it hard to distinguish what I thought from what Duarte possibly wanted me to take away from ‘reading’ his story. Everything is just one degree away from satire – one iota removed from the bizarre – only further serving to highlight why the man and his work within these covers is definitely intended to be something a bit more personal, a bit more involved than the next trade paperback. It’s a bit of what I’d called “shared lunacy,” and it definitely deserves a space in your stack of reading this month.
Bravo, Gustavo! Bravo from this 40+ year veteran of comic book reading! You’ve shown me something new, and, for that, I give you this humble ovation.
MONSTERS AND OTHER STORIES is published by Dark Horse Comics. The stories within (three of them) were conceived and drawn by Gustavo Duarte. It all comes with the cover price of $12.99 (USA), and that’s definitely money well spent so far as this critic is concerned.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been reading comics since the early 1970’s but I’ve yet to see anything filled with as much wonder, excitement, and old-fashioned magical storytelling (without words) like MONSTERS AND OTHER STORIES. Granted, the lack of the spoken word and/or the loss of those sometimes pesky thought bubbles directing the reader where to go, what to think, or how to conceive of it all might prove a bit disheartening at first; still, as the work goes on, Gustavo Duarte’s unique vision wins you over. If you’re like me, you’ll be saddened to reach the end, knowing that these fanciful little journeys are all over … just when you were really getting caught up in the spell … but maybe, if we’re lucky, they’ll be another collection real soon. Isn’t that how you know you read something ground-breaking?
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with an advance digital reading copy of MONSTERS AND OTHER STORIES by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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