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Birds With Bannered Messages
The Complete Talamaroo (Hic and Hoc Publications): When people ask me what I think about digital comics, instead of trying to explain what would be lost to the endemic nature of the tangible artifact, I could just as easily indignantly throw a copy of this book in their face. "See! You can’t do this with digital." The printing process on the cover, the hand assembly of the book jacket, and even the custom signing and numbering of the limited edition run of 200 (I have copy #44). "You can’t do any of that with a fucking computer!" I’m not sure if Alabaster is a nom de plume, the creator’s last name, some super cool anagram I’ve yet to crack, or what, but it doesn’t really matter because the book is super cool. It chronicles the travails of this anthropomorphic creature (who is a “she” we eventually learn) that appears to be a funny looking squatty cat critter, or a “half-witted retarded cat-munchkin” as the book insults. The part that immediately stands out as a unique signifier of creativity are the little birds with banners flitting around; these banners carry the bulk of the narrative messaging, eschewing more traditional dialogue or caption boxes. It’s a smart move that allows those birds to function as sort of “angel” and “devil” figures flying above the shoulders of Talamaroo and guiding her through her adventures. Those adventures are fairly open-ended too, there isn’t a shred of exposition to assault you with meaning or bludgeon you to death with obvious plotting tools. The ostensibly simple happenings and penciling style just present themselves and invite you to develop your own interpretation. In that way, the story isn’t afraid to interact with the audience about the nature of the comic itself. There are even a couple instances where characters will break fourth-wall and appear to address the reader directly. I also appreciate how Alabaster isn’t afraid of rough language or graphic violence, this is juxtaposed against the superficially “cute” aesthetic and belies the impurity that exists in the world. By mid-swing, it’s clear that Talamaroo is off on the type of existential identity quest that defines so much of Western Myth. Along the way, we’re allowed to voyeuristically examine her inner insecurities, personal demons, childlike curiosity, and ultimate self-reliance, which are all apart of the true nature of the universal human condition. This is a book that would make Joseph Campbell proud of the modern narrative language that he helped to define. The Complete Talamaroo reprints several issues from 2010 to 2011, with pragmatic discoveries, and glorious two-page spreads full of whimsy, to the point of an almost fractured reality. It gets to the point that you begin to wonder if little Talamaroo’s reality is truly fractured or if this is just a manifestation of her own damaged psyche and how her brain perceives the world. It reminded me of Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple’s take on Omega: The Unknown, and the suggestions that the entire tale was a depiction of the way a child with Asperger’s Syndrome (on the autism spectrum) would interpret the world. There was a time in college when I probably could have made that clinical connection to the DSM-IV, but I’m not that guy anymore! I want to stress that it isn’t relayed in an obtuse manner though, there’s actual story progression here, which is something I find lacking so frequently in today’s hacked out mini-comics scene. As the issues (which now function as chapters in collected format) progressed, it was interesting to note less reliance on words as Alabaster’s confidence as a storyteller grew. The lack of dialogue or narration increases the sense of isolation Talamaroo feels on her search. That begs the question, what or who is she searching for? “The world’s mostly populated by idiots anyway,” we learn. Ultimately ‘Roo finds Talamarand and his affection upends all conventional wisdom. He values her because she’s plump and quirky. She begins to internalize less and express her emotions. It's a healthy relationship. The duo endure a typical relationship cycle, with bouts of jealousy over Talamalula, flirting with the abject identity horror of merely being a player in your own story, and a Three’s Company style mix-up that, once resolved, leads to a very happy ending. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for? Grade A.