Eel Mansions #1 (Uncivilized Books): This book is a little bat-shit crazy, in all the right ways of course. If you can imagine the younger indie cousin of something like Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT, then Eel Mansions presupposes that similar secret histories of the world well and truly exist. The intertwined stories expand deftly from Armistead Fowler being summoned back from a carnival barker atmosphere to reluctant government service. Though he says “I’m done, baby, quits!” this secret government cabal is fairly relentless.
Eel Mansions is a compelling mélange of Duran Duran references, occult government conspiracy, hipster lingo, and strong humor, like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s a wholly unique sound and aesthetic from Derek Van Gieson. What I think makes the title succeed so boldly is that it’s able to subvert archetypes, simple ones like the lantern-jawed high school jocks who turn to law enforcement or military service so people will give them the respect they could never genuinely earn on their own, or reclamation of the “hipster” designation, but also more complex ones. Even aloof arcane archetypes are made totally self-aware and grounded in reality instead of becoming lost in their own mythologies. Meaning, there’s no Doctor Strange monologuing about the Eye of Agamotto incessantly to the eye-rolls of his Avengers counterparts, but a more complex characterization, resulting in our cool, capable, and quipping protagonist who lives in a book that every once in a while takes the time to pause and wink at the reader.
The (inky, very inky, she's a very inky girl) black and white art and highly variable line weights are an engaging mix of the old EC Comics ethos of basic morality plays, but also makes an effort to push the indie comics confines to find a higher level of understanding through a third eye at the bottom of the toilet bowl because “The hookers in Dinkytown, they got the clap something fierce!” Now, I don’t know what any of that means, but it sounds pretty frickin’ cool to me, not “…too inky” or “…too icky” as the book itself tongue-in-cheekily asserts.
The copy editor in me is required to tell you that there are a couple of typos here and there (mayonnaise and barbecue, if memory serves), but that doesn’t really matter. I want you to follow the brief interludes and other vignette strips concerning Doomin and Leroy record shopping, segue to the reflexive way the music snob characters are seen reading the same Doomin and Leroy strip, and go all the way to the well-played timing of the woman toward the end. I love her. She playfully feigns ignorance of a drinking problem while the camera suddenly zooms out to revel she’s sitting in a bar. We then loop back around to the two agents who confronted Armistead Fowler in the introductory sequence. There’s a crazy cliffhanger end to the book, which I won’t spoil, but suffice it to say it only makes me want to desperately see more from Van Gieson.
Not to end on a melodramatic note, but look, nobody can replace Dylan Williams. He built Sparkplug Comic Books out of thin air, attempting to instill connoisseurship in a barely formed audience. That said, I’m feeling very good about the combination of newer publishers like Austin English at Domino Comics, Matt Moses at Hic & Hoc Publications, and Tom Kaczynski at Uncivilized Books. They’d make Dylan proud, to see guys following their passion and publishing the types of books they want to see in the world, that probably would have a hard time building an audience or finding an outlet elsewhere. Bravo. Grade A.