Thursday, January 8, 2015

Eel Mansions - Derek Van Gieson


It's 6 am and I've been up since late 4 am or early 5 am or some other ungodly early hour in the morning. I've just arrived at my apartment from dropping my girlfriend off at work, and I'm filled with a mysterious energy that I have no idea from where it originates. I go to my living room and see my chrome-colored laptop: the laptop is a constant reminder that I need to type up my review for Here by Richard McGuire.

Might as well use this mysterious energy to use.

I sit on my couch, grab my laptop, take out my notebook out of my backpack, which has my written review for Here. I get settled in and start typing my review. Not even a few minutes in, something in the corner of my eye that grabs my attention. I move my attention away from my laptop to get a better picture of what I glimpsed. I see a paperback whose cover has a collection of drawings of otherworldly faces. I read its title: Eel Mansions by Derek Van Gieson

Looking for a reason to procrastinate, I pick up Eel Mansions, close my laptop, get cozy on my couch and start reading.

I'm instantly hooked.

Eel Mansions by Derek Van Gieson is a hard comic to describe. A comic whose various interwoven narratives and meta-narratives are continually shifting and changing. A comic which is inhabited by cults, conspiracy theories, and theorists, government agents, Eldritch creatures, secret histories, occult knowledge, Moomin stand-ins talking about music, EC influenced comics that use abstractionist moral stories, drunk indie cartoonists trying to find their next drink. All this is working within the framework of the supernatural and noir genre.

Eel Mansions is also worked in another framework and that's the melodramatic soap opera world that's heavily reminiscent of Mark Frost's and David Lynch's Twin Peaks. It actually has the confidence that's seen in the pilot of Twin Peaks. What I mean by that is, when you first see Twin Peaks, it's characters and the world feels lived in and we, the viewer, got dropped in one day and it's up to us to navigate and understand this lived in world and it's history: Eel Mansions pulls aspect of Twin Peaks perfectly. Within Eel Mansions, we navigate the lived in-world through characters' dropping hints of their past history or putting the connections together or just coming to terms that there are some things we'll never know. There are other aspects that it Eel Mansions use from Twin Peaks: shifting from various modes of magical realism, supernatural, surrealism, and a cast of idiosyncratic characters.

It's really a testament to Van Gieson's writing ability that he's able to juggle all these things effortlessly. Van Gieson is able to shift through various different modes of writing and genres without ever relying on cliches and lazy tropes. Well, he does use those cliches, archetypes and tropes found within the genres he's working in, but he subverts them in a way that grounds them, makes them self-aware of who they are. All this is brought to life by Van Gieson's artwork.

Van Gieson's artwork lives in a world of blacks and whites and pseudo-grays and polka dots that give Van Gieson's characters and world a feeling of weariness; of living in a slump; of haunted pasts coming back to haunt its characters. The world in which Van Gieson's lines move from simple-angular, off-kilter shapes that can make his human characters express the most complex of emotions to finely-detailed, grotesque creatures that will make you your face scrunch up in disgust. There was never a moment within the comic did I feel that Van Gieson artwork was never on its A game.

I finish comic and the mysterious energy I had is now gone and I pass out.

And I dream.

And I dream of Eel Mansions.

I dream of toilets shifting and changing into Giger-esque illustrations; of Tove Jansson like grotesque creatures talking about music; of goat-mask wearing Satanic cults using guns on people; guns which are indistinguishable because of the impossible geometrical shapes they've morphed into; guns that turn the cult's victim's blood into chocolate; and I dream of an indie cartoonist growing weary of the questions from a french indie comic blogger.

And I wake up.


I see Eel Mansions is on my chest, and I know this is a comic that I will go back to time and time again because any comic that can dig itself that deep into my subconscious and make me dream of it is a comic worth re-visiting.

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