4.27.2011

Illuminating The Darkness

Too Dark To See (Thuban Press): This is the second book by Julia Gfrörer I’ve read, following up her mighty Flesh & Bone, published by Sparkplug Comic Books. I’m happy to see her body of work expanding. Too Dark To See is lovingly hand-assembled and continues Gfrorer’s fascination with mythological folklore, and the intersection between the ethereal and the occult.

One of Gfrorer’s muses seems to come in the form of dueling incubus and succubus imagery, this time focusing on the latter female variety. Gfrörer has clearly done her homework, yet doesn’t brag about it overtly during the course of the work. There’s this Latin phrase I keep going back to: “Ars Est Celare Artem.” The Art Is To Hide The Art, meaning that audiences should not be made keenly aware of craft, or it pushes them out of the experience. We know that both the incubus and succubus are believed to surreptitiously prey on their sexual subjects, and specifically that repeated visitation by such a demon is believed to affect one’s health. My point here is that though Gfrörer weaves this fact about diminishing health subtly into the dialogue, it’s not as if she’s showing off her knowledge in the manner that some fledgling creators seem prone to. We’ve all seen those types of lines that stick out as if the creator just wants you to know what book they’ve read or what factoid they’re capable of conjuring. There’s no context for it other than to demonstrate one’s own superiority and it’s instantly off-putting. I have a lot of respect for the restraint she shows instead.

Beyond those mechanics, the real question to ask in this story concerns what the succubus represents thematically. I take the shadow creeping in to embody the type of self-doubt that can threaten any young couple in love.

Visually, the art is spartan and austere. There is a certain frankness in Gfrorer’s lines that I find so appealing; it’s there in the way she captures a scowl or a shy turn, and it’s more convincing than the spare lines might lead you to think. Gfrörer doesn’t flood her panels with line work, but the lines she does choose to use all have their purpose and carry some meaning. That is to say, Julia Gfrörer is a very effective artist.

Taken holistically, the total package is an example of bold and confident storytelling, an artist realizing their vision in an uncompromised fashion. It’s so easy for creators to have their original ideas watered down by self-doubt, audience expectations, or even a collaborator or an editor, so I’m glad that Gfrörer has found a space to operate in that’s unfettered by such distractions. The work feels pure and isn’t afraid to stake a claim on meaning.

One of the things I enjoy about Gfrorer’s work in general is that it’s occasionally charged with unashamed sexuality. Here we see this flirtation with a cavalier attitude regarding the eroticism of non-consensuality that some people like to play with, even if they won’t readily admit it.

These elements are not just gratuitous titillation, but a fine examination about interpersonal dynamics. What happens when you put two people into a closed room and watch what they’re capable of doing to each other emotionally? When locked into a difficult conversation, you usually have three choices in approach: deflect, engage, or escalate, and you’ll consciously (or not) choose one of those paths. We can see some exploration of these avenues for this couple. The dangers are in the shadows, in the insecurity that can invade a relationship if you let it. The ultimate risk is potentially not seeing another person as they truly are, for who they are, and allowing these demonic nymphs, be them corporeal or imagined, to steal confidence, to steal life itself, which is a notion you can read into either figuratively or literally thanks to Julia Gfrorer’s keen artistic eye and playful devil’s advocacy.

Too Dark To See might not have the “zing” in the dialogue that something like Flesh & Bone had, it might not play with those direct expressive word choices of that previous book, but thematically it’s just as strong, and even more singular in the mechanisms it uses to achieve its storytelling goal. I’m left wondering how this happened, that after just two books, Julia Gfrörer has become one of my favorite creators. Grade A.

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