The Outliers [Small Press]
The Outliers (Alternative Comics): There’s certainly no denying the sheer artistry on display in Erik T. Johnson’s beautiful new project. From the dust jacket and French folds, to the illustrated guide to primal fears on the covers (visages on one side, descriptions on the reverse), to the paper quality, the letterpress printing technique, and so on. For those naysayers decrying “print is dead!” with the rise of digital comics, I say “BAH!” Digital comics will never be able to capture the tactile presence of something like The Outliers, which is a prime example of small press comics transcending the basics of the medium to achieve objet d’art status. The Outliers is a careful exploration of our prejudices and jingoistic attitudes, not to mention the fact that you just never know what’s going on behind the scenes with most people. Too often, we see only the masks they wear for the outside world and base our perceptions on that. There is mystery surrounding The Outliers, which I greatly enjoyed. It’s about a kid, some would say a “freak,” living a sheltered life. The freak kid endures a freak accident during a freak storm and encounters a freak creature with freak professors and freak languages following. It’s freaky, ok? I don’t mean that as a pejorative descriptor, only in the sense that Johnson is able to effectively evoke mood, vibe, and place. It’s easy to imagine the events in Chapter One of The Outliers occurring somewhere in the wet wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. So much of the work is done with minimal dialogue that it’s easy to imagine The Outliers playing like some silent short film, a cross between the sense of wonder and discovery in The Iron Giant and some of the Pixar shorts like La Luna, perhaps revealing Johnson’s career as a designer and illustrator. Color plays an integral role in the success of The Outliers. Johnson initially uses a lush green to emphasize the rain drenched wooded adventure. Later in the story, he switches to soft and contemplative blue hues, which seem thematically appropriate. He uses inky emotive lines for Tsu, a character who rarely speaks conventionally, like some great facial characteristic hybrid of Craig Thompson and Simon Roy. The Outliers seems to be fascinated with the fringes of society, the titular people, places, and events that lie on the outer edge of our daily existence or just on the periphery of our understanding. With great induction to his world and an exciting cliffhanger, all I can say is “more, please.” Spoiler Alert, but we’re probably looking at one of the best books of the year. Grade A+.