Literally Interpreting The Figurative

Spider Monkey #1 (Domino Books): Jesse McManus and Austin English offer a stark bit of originality with this offbeat story ostensibly about adventuring kids. There are so many ideas at play amid the varying-length shorts which are tangentially related here, but the feature-length story up front bears the majority of the narrative push. The panels are so rich and dense with heavy line-weighted action searching out every nook and cranny of the frame. Nako sits on the shoulder of Spider and self-referentially comments on the way Spider is actually drawing him for the comic. It’s a nice bit of thought regarding the act of creation, or the inspirations for creativity, and where they may originate from. Whether Spider interacts with Nako or talks to other animals, like one wolf in particular, you get the sense that Spider, and maybe his creators ciphering through him, are concerned with man’s primal need to create as proof of existence. I heard a saying once which I’ll probably paraphrase incorrectly, that you take what you need from the world in order to live, but that your life is marked by what you give back to the world. If that isn’t a philanthropic or artistic call to arms, then I don’t know what is. Spider Monkey is full of dichotomy, and that’s a dynamic I always enjoy, because it also speaks to man’s duality. There’s fun and simultaneously scary elements on this adventure with the kids venturing to some underground carnival, visuals which are strangely crude yet consistently accomplished, to divergent meanings about the ritual way Spider’s sister enters a room and runs her hands along the walls (is it OCD? some odd protection spell? just a quirky kid?), to how masks used for identity are treated as commodity at the corner store. The concept of masks is perhaps emblematic of this entire story. We all use masks, figuratively if not literally, there’s the one(s) we wear for all the world to see, and then there’s a darker more hidden side. Spider Monkey, at times, attempts to discern a literal interpretation of the figurative mask, and that’s a thought-provoking intellectual exercise. I also appreciated the concern the creators expressed over “voicing the proper appreciation” of art. It’s a small piece of meta-textual commentary about small press and mini-comics being either valued by those in-the-know or categorically dismissed by the ignorant. It gets at the heart of the fickle nature of fans, and you realize that between all these oppressing issues, artistry in any capacity is actually a very solitary act. I’d encourage you to seek out Spider Monkey, praise the creators, and make the dynamic a little less singular. Spoiler Alert (I guess?), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Spider Monkey on my end of the year list of “Best Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2012.” Grade A.


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