Thursday, November 15, 2007

Galactikrap #2

Brian Chippendale

If there was ever a Galactikrap #1, I never saw it, but that didn’t impede my enjoyment of this new comic book from Brian Chippendale, author of Maggots and Ninja, drummer for the band Lightning Bolt, and one of the most talented cartoonists working today.

How to enjoy Galactikrap #2: After ogling the gorgeous silk-screened front and back covers, flip to the third from the last page for a summary of the story thus far. The summary is something of a joke, I think, in that it is a nigh unintelligible info-dump of information, and, again, I’m not convinced that there ever actually was a first issue. I may be completely wrong about this, and Chippendale may in fact have intended this recap to assist readers who had missed out on the first installment in understanding what had come before. Personally, I couldn’t follow it, and the recap served as the setup to a joke which was finished by the first of the book’s short stories, about a group of characters lounging around their headquarters trying to come up with a new name for their team, which is probably a good idea considering their current name is “Teamy Weamy.” The casual pace and mundane nature of this story contrast with the epic scope and labyrinthine plot developments suggested by the recap page to great comedic effect, but the laughs don’t stop there. The second, longer story concerns two characters trying to sell bug cakes (“they got bugs on ‘em and in ‘em”) to a couple of customers over the course of 23 pages. When one would-be customer threatens to report the bug cake salesmen to the Food and Drug Administration after learning the true nature of their product, the response of one of the salespeople is one of the funniest moments I’ve experienced in comics this year.

I guess I should mention here that these and all of the stories in this comic take place in/on Galacticapital Two, a floating space city which has been hurtling through the cosmos for generations on a mission which none of its citizens can remember. This is not particularly important to any of the characters in the comic. Galacticapital Two could just as easily be another dimension or another planet or a haunted island in the middle of the Bermuda triangle. The floating city does not provide the characters with motivation so much as it provides Chippendale with a canvas on which to paint his alien civilization, which may mirror the world we know in some ways (there is some broad political commentary threaded into these stories), but which is also completely it’s own thing. It’s also a terrific place to spend some time on a lazy afternoon.

Following the bug cake sequence is an action/adventure narrative about a ninja-like character who descends into the sewers to rescue a woman’s baby, who has been captured by a couple of frightening looking characters who are members of something called the Deep Cutz Force, a “pitch black ops” group whose mission is to capture children to be used as fodder in covert military operations. Plenty of action, violence, and showing off of superpowers in this middle sequence, culminating in a cliffhanger one hopes will be continued in a third (second?) issue.

The book’s final sequence involves a trio of characters hoping to use the bathroom of what I guess is a kind of grocery store constructed in the shape of a Godzilla-like creature, only to find themselves ambushed by an impish fellow in a black witch’s hat claiming to be part of something called Gang Gloom. Another cliffhanger.

None of the stories described above are particularly compelling from a plot standpoint, although I found them to be delightfully quirky. The chief pleasures to be found in this 74 page comic book (counting the recap and inside front and back covers) come from the enjoyment of immersion in the bizarre landscape Chippendale has constructed for these funny little characters, a landscape pulsing with life and energy in the way that the best of the artist’s work and that of his Fort Thunder contemporaries always does. Some have referred to this book as Chippendale’s most straightforward and accessible to date, although I didn’t find it to be that different from works like Ninja. I think that any moves toward greater accessibility (whatever that really means), come not from the nature of the stories being told, but from the way the narrative is structured. And, yes, that does mean that Chippendale’s trademark reading pattern, in which readers are instructed to begin following the panels of the comic at the top left corner of the first page and moving right, then back towards the right through the second row of panels and so forth in a snake like motion, is absent here. The stories in this comic book are designed to be read in traditional left to right, top to bottom fashion, which may come as a relief for some, although I’ve never found Chippendale’s usual narrative technique, designed so as to create an uninterrupted “flow” to his comics, particularly distracting or difficult to follow. Another difference between this and previous Chippendale works is the pace of the work and the size of the panels. Much of the comic book contains only two large panels which split the page horizontally, making a rather brisk reading experience of a relatively thick comic book. Much of the experience of reading Ninja and Maggots involved the rapid movement of the eyes over myriad tiny panels. Here, Chippendale’s drawings are given room to breathe, which results in an opportunity for appreciation of them as drawings, as opposed to marks on the page whisking us briskly from one moment to the next. I found myself reading this comic somewhat slowly so as to fully appreciate Chippendale’s scratchy, inky line work and innovative character designs.

The pleasures of the comic book are simple ones, but there are a lot of them. I’m glad I went to the effort of ordering the book from the PictureBox website, which may be the only way it’s available at the moment. I think it’s great that an artist like Chippendale, who has had so much recent success with the full length, graphic novel format (I’m speaking of artistic success as opposed to commercial success) so enthusiastically and effectively continues to utilize the “comic book” format. I hope to see more such work from him soon.


Dan Nadel said...

Nice review. There was indeed and issue # 1 a couple years ago. Brian had a few with him at SPX but it's otherwise a little hard to come by.

Mr. Joseph said...

On Amazon they've got something called Battlestack Galacticrap Foods by Brain Chippendale for $18.95. They don't show the cover. Anyone know what this is? Is it Battlestar Galactikrap #1?

Brian said...

It is indeed. The price has been rising steadily on that book from Amazon though, and I'll say right now that it's not as good as Galactikrap 2: No silkscreened pages, no Ben Jones comics, a lot more pages that are just a single drawing of a character talking, and it's probably like 24 pages total.

You can see the cover if you look up the Comics Reporter interview with Jog, actually; there's a little thumbnail.

Frank Santoro said...

Nice review!

Chippendale did Galactikrap #1 for a gallery show in the UK. He said to me that he didn't know they were going to sell it on-line and was sorta bummed about it. It was supposed to be just for the show I think.

I actually wrote a review of Galacticrap #2 in my notebook at SPX -- and now that this review is out I'm gonna post it on comicscomics