Wednesday, August 21, 2013

My Top Cartoonists #1 – Chris Reynolds and His World of Mauretania - PART THREE/INTERVIEW

(Please see Part One of this series here, and Part Two here.)
My Chris Reynolds Interview:

Amazingly, it was back in May when I conducted the first chunk of this interview.  As Mr. Reynolds lives in England and I do not, and I am poor, the interview(s) was conducted via e-mail on a few separate occasions (as I came up with more questions and he was nice enough to answer them).  I want to thank Chris Reynolds for taking the time and putting in the thought to answer these questions and for being patient with me in general, as it took me quite a while to complete this project.  Also, additional thanks to Mr. Reynolds for making such distinctive and enjoyable comics over the years!

Comic Book Evangelist: How long have you been doing comics?

Chris Reynolds: Since 1985.

CBE: What inspired you to start doing them?

CR: Paul Harvey started Mauretania Comics and asked me to do some strips.

CBE: Who are some of your influences in terms of comics, art, and literature?

CR: Comics: Batman, Beano, UK “Smash,” June and School Friend, Commando, Air War Picture Stories.
Art: Giorgio di Chirico, Edward Hopper.
Literature: Enid Blyton, Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler, Fredric Brown, Cordwainer Smith.
TV: Doctor Who, Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” Harry O, most 1970’s US detective shows.

CBE: What or whom inspired the creation of your characters, such as Monitor, Jimmy, Robert, and Rosa? Are they based upon or influenced by other literary or pop culture beings?

CR: Monitor’s overall shape came from a character called “Billy the Cat” in the Beano comic, Rosa was Debbie Harry, and Marilyn came from Annie Lennox.
Robert Rebor was originally an adult, a kind of “man of mystery,” in a novel I began in 1974, but then I did a couple of “as a child” stories about him.  (This was before I did comics - a lot of my characters began life in short text stories of about 3 to 5 lines which I did before I ever began doing comics.)

(Above image is of "Billy the Cat," a character whose look influenced that of Reynolds' Monitor.)

CBE: Why does Monitor always wear his space suit?

CR: The same reason most comics characters rarely change their outfits – so that you immediately know it’s him.  Rosa always wears her beanie for that reason too.

CBE: What are you “getting at” with your comics?  Are you telling stories, do you think, or creating a mood, or perhaps trying to create something akin to a poem or other type of art?

CR: I didn’t know what I was getting at until Seth wrote his brilliant essay about me.  Then it all became clear.  And, yes, the most important thing to me is about creating a mood.

CBE: I notice that many of the comics seem to be vague or oblique, so the characters seem to know what’s going on, while the readers have only some of the information for understanding.  I’m wondering – is this intended?

CR: Good question.  It is intended.  Perhaps the reader gets the best “feel” when they have to use the pattern-recognition part of their mind to fill-in parts of the story for themselves, or have to try and make their own associations about it.

CBE: I noticed re-reading some stories that there are lots of “shots” of buildings and landscapes, and also a kind of longing for the past or a sense that things now are decaying (or even “bombed out” in some stories).  Is there a reason those things seem to pervade a lot of your stories?

CR: I think I just feel at home among old buildings that have gone and have wild flowers growing among them. There was certainly a lot of this kind of place around when I was growing up in Wales and the English Midlands in the 1960’s and 70’s. Exciting places to play. Rare now, they are all tidied-up or built-on. (Just across the road from where I live here in Bournemouth there is one last derelict plot with long grasses waving in the wind and insects among the old concrete slabs, but only yesterday they started putting up the fence ready for the new flats building there!)

CBE: So, do your stories come about organically, or does it require a lot of pre-planning?

CR: Organically.  I usually have no idea what these people are up to either.  My first proper story in what has become my well-known drawing style, “Monitor’s Human Reward,” came in a dream. I dreamed that I was reading this really interesting comic.  I wished I could write a comic story as great as that.  And then I woke up.  And imagine my joy five minutes later when I realized that it actually was me who had written it!

CBE: How do you create your comics?  Do you write any kind of script first?

CR: Always a script first, then I plan which parts of the script go into which panels, I fit it into 9-panel pages by expansion or compression, then start on the actual artwork, panel outlines, then text, then balloons, than the images, which have usually evolved in my mind while I’ve been doing the other stuff.

CBE: Do the stories come out pretty much as they are in final form, or do you have some process for creating them (for example, removing parts that are too expository)?

CR: Sometimes some things have to come out – but this is for all kinds of reasons.  Very late editing.  “The Dial” lost twelve pages even after I’d got as far as drawing it, “Monitor’s Human Reward” didn’t even have an ending until after I’d started drawing it – I dreamed that two nights later.  “The Small Mines” had a whole page inserted after I’d originally completed it.

CBE: With the art – it has a unique, heavily inked look … what tools do you use?  Any special pencils, pens, brushes, or markers?  Is it ordinary paper or something like Bristol board?  When you color, do you use computer programs?

CR: Nothing unusual here, except in my most very recent stories where I’m using animation studio techniques and assembling my panels from pre-drawn components. (No stories are actually animated.)  For penciling and inking I use ordinary cartridge or even typing paper, cheap pens and Indian ink with brush.  But as I am now constructing my images from individual elements, these original sheets feel rather disposable because so much work goes on after scanning that I don’t think they can actually be referred to as “original artwork.”  I scan, convert to vector graphics, and combine, export as raster graphics again, and make quite a lot of changes before a panel is actually complete.

CBE: Just wondering a bit about the current process you have for art making.  I’ve done a little work with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, but I am not entirely clear on what you meant by using “pre-drawn elements” for your comics now ... do you draw pics of your characters in various poses, and maybe some backgrounds, and then go back and combine them in various ways when you’ve come up with a story (in other words, you don’t draw new artwork when you’ve got a new story, you just find ways to re-purpose old art, almost like having a series of stamps you can use to create new visuals?).  I am just unclear on how that process works.

CR: I now use pre-drawn characters and backgrounds (extending the sets of images where necessary for each story). I have these as vector graphics (as from Adobe Illustrator) and export them as a series of layers into Photoshop, then flatten and color, add captions and balloons. (This is my new way of working - to speed things up - all the old black and white strips are straight artwork drawn on A3 cartridge paper.)

CBE: What sparked your move to online/Kindle-style comics?

CR: It was just a new outlet for doing comics, and my comics in particular seemed the right length, the right format (same-sized, vertical rectangle panels), and they wouldn’t have too big a filesize for readers to download, nor be too short for 99c pricing.

CBE: Are you going to keep those new works exclusively online, or do you hope or plan to release print versions of them?

CR: The original artwork of my new stories is suitable for printing and I still count my panels in multiples of nine, to enable print versions. My friend Jerome LeGlatin is trying strenuously to find me a French publisher for a collection and Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury are planning an English collection, edited by Seth.

CBE: Do you think doing your works in color and online changes anything about how the stories come across?

CR: At first on Kindle I stuck to monochrome as the devices were monochrome, but as color devices seemed to become more and more popular I went to color. (Also I stopped putting the stories exclusively on Kindle and added “Smashwords” versions. Smashwords acts as a wholesaler for Sony, Apple, Nook, etc, and I’m glad I did these because it enables a greater distribution.)
Color has been interesting for me, particularly in “The Beginning of Empires” where I used “fauvist” non-representational colors (not on the Amazon version which is mono), and in “Planet 4” where I went for a bleached, washed-out look, that becomes richer as the story develops.

CBE: Do you prefer working in short story format, or do you plan to create any longer works again?

CR: Short stories are where I settle happiest, but I like to try new things - always - so I’d probably love to do a longer one again - and another film.

CBE: I know you work in some other media (painting, film) – what are some of the particular gratifications you get only from the comics format/mode?

CR: I learned that a film runs at a constant speed, so the “reader” is stuck with that speed. And this means that a film has to be “told” in a certain way to work properly, and film-making is a highly developed art and so those ways are well-known. But when I made the Mauretania Comics film I found that it wasn’t a form that I could use to put across the feelings that I wanted to put across, so... better luck next time.
And at present I’m uneasy about doing paintings. Something about the way a painting is an “object”, but I’m still thinking about it. I like to sell prints rather than originals.

CBE: Do you have some vision for where you’re going with the world of your comics?

CR: It’s like stepping stones. I just do one at a time. The story comes first, then I decide which of my cast of characters will be best for it, as if they’re sitting there in some kind of imaginary green room.

CBE: Finally, in Seth’s article for The Comics Journal (from 2005, I think?), he seemed to think you’d stopped cartooning/making comics.  I had also thought that until fairly recently - maybe a couple of years ago, I think.  Did you have a hiatus from making comics, and, if so, why?  What did you do instead?

CR: I did stop cartooning for a long while. I think I stopped in about 1986 when I decided that making films might be easier. How na├»ve! So I made that Mauretania film Hunters of the Sun. It took ages and was really expensive and most of the work was in administration and planning. Not much percentage of creativity at all. So then I tried “novels”, but I had reckoned without how much the visuals in a comic carry the story and it was like learning a whole new grammar and, well, who needs all that stuff when I’d rather be doing comics anyway.  (What I really want is a slave artist who’ll draw my comics exactly the way I want them.)

My Top Cartoonists #1 – Chris Reynolds and His World of Mauretania - PART TWO

(Please see Part One of this series here.)
Story #2 – The Golden Age – Sorting Through Time and Place Changes to Find Where Love Can Flourish:
NOTE: From here on, I will be discussing story specifics, so it’s safe to say there will be ***SPOILERS!***

The series of short comics – all titled “The Golden Age” – reprinted in “The Dial and Other Stories” may be even weirder than, though not quite as unsettling as, “The Dial” itself.  While these are seemingly separate tales, they combine to make one “story” about young Robert, his beloved headmistress, Catherine, and their foe, Cwiss.
Things begin simply enough: Robert has been caught “playing truant” by his headmistress.  He had been planning to return to school on his own, but had been unable to traverse a canal due to “unusual train movements.”  As the headmistress drives him back to school, something strange happens.  It’s bizarre enough, and signals a shift into fantasy/darkness profoundly strange enough that I shall quote the passage:
“Robert smiled.  He’d seen a change in the form of the street, a little way ahead … a huge golden Roman arch, spanning the road.  The headmistress said, quite conversationally, that she had seen the arch on the way from the school, and remarked that she had often thought that the ordinary buildings that the people had been used to seeing would one day just appear as generators for the fantastic visions they saw nowadays.”
The scene shows, in a large panel, Robert staring up at a gleaming archway above the road.  What is going on?
These bits of the “gleaming Roman world” show up a few more times throughout the stories, and the landscape, in general, colors the action.
Robert is back at the school at the end of the first story, but, as the second tale begins, he and the headmistress are together again, exploring a bombed out section of town.  At this point, we find out that, “They had realized that they were the only ones in the world who understood each other.  That understanding had turned to love.”  Robert asks Catherine (the headmistress) if she will wait for him to get old enough for them to get married, and she answers, “Of course.”
Tired Robert ends up riding on his headmistress’s shoulders, and soon they run into the weird boy, Cwiss (though his name isn’t revealed until later), who also rides on his own headmistress’s shoulders.  Cwiss, a sneering elf of a child with a cottony blond or white afro, seems to want nothing more than to mock and otherwise cause Robert distress, so he challenges Robert to a “race” with Catherine and Cwiss’s headmistress acting as “steeds.”  He hands Robert a whip to use on Catherine.  As Robert and Catherine fall behind, Catherine trips, and an injured Robert yells at and kicks her, before realizing what he’s doing.  “What had happened to them?  They’d been so happy,” he thinks, as Catherine cries in a heap at his feet.
Later, near a waterfall, Catherine goes to sleep under Robert’s coat, and he goes off exploring.  She disappears mysteriously.  Cwiss shows up again and has his headmistress “help” search for Catherine.  Robert wonders how Cwiss’s headmistress is able to move the heavy rubble, and then, upon taking a closer look at her, he sees she is a robot.  “Ok, so she’s a robot.  But YOU’VE got nobody,” Cwiss says, before taking off again.  Robert continues combing the area, and finally looks where Cwiss’s robot had been exploring.  There, he finds Catherine, buried, bleeding, and probably dead.
Bereft, Robert returns to the “part of the town that hadn’t been bombed,” but no one there will believe him about what happened to Catherine.  One man insists Catherine had moved away over a year ago.
Robert returns to the bombed-out side of town, only to find much of it has been flattened by huge bulldozers.  Soon, however, he finds the entrance to a maze of underground, cement-walled tunnels, and he explores them.  He discovers a chair that faces a concrete wall, and sits in it.  An image of Catherine appears on the wall, and Robert heads back out of the tunnels to find the real woman sleeping by the waterfall.  They reaffirm their love for each other, and both seem to want to revert to some earlier state: Robert says he wants Catherine to become headmistress at the school again, and she suggests they go back through the tunnels, as “there’s nothing for us here.”
They exit the tunnel once, but Cwiss ambushes them, hitting Catherine over the head and shooting Robert.  Somehow, they enter a tunnel again, but they emerge and are shot by a rat-headed creature.  Finally, Robert sits in the chair facing the cement wall again “wishes for somewhere happy.”  He wishes, too, to be old enough to marry Catherine, and then he closes his eyes.  After a black panel, a series of panels shows what appears to be the wedding of a now adult Robert and Catherine in a futuristic city, complete with musical notes filling the sky.
Reynolds provides a one-page prose epilogue, too complex to detail here, but, in it, Robert and Catherine have a baby, who turns out to be Cwiss, and who continues to inflict all sorts of cruelties upon the couple/his parents.  Somehow, this little evil boy is able to make the presumably adult Robert and Catherine “dance to his tune.”
What could all of this mean?
As with many of Reynolds’ stories, these ones feel nightmarish.  The child, Robert, has a strong desire to grow up, it seems, and to experience love with the adult headmistress, but she is a caricature of an adult: she does not seem to have a well-developed personality of her own, but is more of a fantasy projection of Robert’s.  On the other hand, the two do seem to want to protect each other. 
Cwiss, conversly, seems like all that’s bad about childhood, and he’s constantly seeking to thwart Robert’s desire to grow up and have a life with Catherine.  Sometimes he wants to kill Catherine, and other times, he merely seems to want to pit Robert and Catherine against each other, or to separate them.  Perhaps he’s some sort of enfant terrible?  Some id-like monster Robert cannot fully defeat, even when he does finally become an adult (at the story’s end and then in the prose epilogue)?
But there’s more: Robert and Catherine seem to be trying to get to a future world where they can be happy – they see these “gleaming Roman” structures, and Catherine posits that they are of some world that will exist soon.  The old world is either the non-bombed-out area, where Robert’s a child and Catherine his headmistress (or she doesn’t even exist there anymore, as others tell Robert that she’d moved away a year ago, etc.), or it’s the bombed-out side of town, which is dangerous, then is plowed over to make way for something new.  Underneath are featureless tunnels, from which persons can apparently emerge at different spots in space and time.  Underground, there’s a place where one can sit and make one’s dreams/desires manifest … Robert finally finds the lost/dead Catherine this way, and, at the story’s end, he seems to become “old enough” to marry Catherine through sitting in the chair and wishing for it to be true.
It’s all quite strange, and it keeps me thinking, but there’s enough there to find multiple possible ideas or explanations.  I’ll note in closing out this section that the antagonist’s name – Cwiss – sounds like the cartoonist’s first name in “Elmer Fudd-speak.”  Perhaps it’s the author’s dramatization of how he and others of his ilk complicate their creations’ “lives?”
Story #3 – Spectrum Has Been Abandoned – The Old World Loses Its Colour and Its Inhabitants:
In recent years, Reynolds has moved from creating comic books in black and white with ink and paper to composing computer-colored, paneled stories with software and pre-drawn “elements” for e-reading devices like Amazon’s Kindle.  This is one of those newer stories (from 2013).
At first, it’s a bit startling to see the differences in Reynolds’ art style: The bright colors contrast with his shadowy, inky older imagery from the ‘80s comic books.  Some of his backgrounds and pictures of vehicles retain the sketchy, scratchy look of his earlier works, but the figures became blockier and simplified, and he uses glow effects and highlights in some places.  Some of the characters’ faces and figures are repeated in multiple panels, and the jagged captions’ and word and thought balloon borders are now … borderless!
I’ve generally preferred his older style so far, but Reynolds’ storytelling comes through in the newer “strips,” and the art style has grown on me a bit.  I get the feeling he is learning to use these new tools (computer colors, elements, the Kindle), and is figuring out how use them to enhance his story creation/composition skills, and is hoping the time and energy saved will allow him to keep producing new work at a satisfactory pace and level.
In “Spectrum Has Been Abandoned,” Monitor – Reynolds’ signature character, with a spacesuit and helmet on at all times – accompanies a high school friend and his “mysterious elder sister,” Helga, to have her fortune told.  The fortune teller, another person from high school, who uses a sort of garden of glowing flowers to do her work, tells Helga “Spectrum Has Been Abandoned.”  Monitor spends the rest of the tale puzzling out what that phrase could mean: “And where does a prophecy come from, anyway?  From which mysterious agency?  And how can that agency possibly know?”
Monitor returns to the village where the fortune telling occurred, only to find it deserted and the “fortune-telling garden all gone to ruin.”  With the brightly colored plants dead and brown now, he muses “Spectrum Has Been Abandoned.”  Could that be what was meant?  “The garden was making a prophecy about itself.”

Monitor muses over passages – “This country is beautiful, but it no longer speaks to me” – before deciding that he needs “a town … friends; business acquaintances; people!”

Next thing we know, Monitor is at the “Science Fiction Characters’ Bar” with several silhouetted superhero types.  “Don’t you get fed-up of just going round ‘monitoring?’” one asks our hero.  “Well, don’t you get fed-up of just fighting the same people again and again?” Monitor replies.  “We all have our little cup of pencils to shake.”  The sci-fi characters then jaw over how they never really seem to carry money, but they will put their drinks on each others’ tabs anyway.
Short and sweet, with its “Cheers”-like ending, but again, what could it mean?
It could be “Monitor” mulling over a desire to leave the quiet country or the past behind for a busier, more exciting city life.  “The ground no longer talks to us – perhaps because we are very tired,” he thinks at one point.  Or is that a broader statement on humanity – of a desire or tendency to leave behind old ways … village, prophecies, our individual or collective pasts (high school) for some wild future?
On the other hand, Monitor leaves “the village” for a place that is clearly not real or realistic.  Is the character tired of existing in a real world, or the world of Mauretania, which is at least remotely like ours?  Or perhaps Reynolds himself is tired of writing about Monitor in the world he’s inhabited?
What exactly is the “spectrum” that has been abandoned?  I am not truly sure, but what I do know is that, like Monitor, I will think about and revisit it for some time.
For further reading:
Order “Adventures from Mauretania” (includes a lot of Monitor stories), “The Dial and Other Stories,” “Cinema Detectives,” and the stand-alone graphic novel “Mauretania” from Reynolds’ own site, here.
You can also get these and other works through, Smashwords, Lulu, or from Mile High Comics or eBay (for back issues of the original Mauretania Comics, though good luck getting many of them!).
This concludes my appreciation/overview/review of Reynolds’ works.  Next up, a short interview with Chris Reynolds!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

My Top Cartoonists #1 - Chris Reynolds and His World of Mauretania - PART ONE

A Bit About It:

And so, as promised, I am writing about my favorite cartoonists (or comic book makers, or whatever term you’d prefer) …

First up is Chris Reynolds (of England), creator of what could be loosely termed the “Mauretania Universe.”  His stories all seem to take place there, whether they explicitly state it or not.  Now there’s a real country in Africa called Mauritania, but Reynolds’ Mauretania is a decidedly different place (Mauretania was also apparently an independent tribal kingdom in ancient Libya, and the namesake for two Cunard-made ocean liners, FYI).  Reynolds’ Mauretania is an off-kilter, edgy, and dream-like setting, a mix of lost bucolic past and downbeat retro future.  Logic, as we understand it, doesn’t apply there: characters act and events occur for reasons that don’t make sense in our world.

Enhancing the mysterious, otherworldly atmosphere of his comics is Reynolds’ artwork: a blend of styles, which seems to include old woodcut novels, airplane safety brochures, children’s books, and Reynolds’ unique, seemingly-too-thick-to-work-but-somehow-it-does ink line.  I’m hard pressed to think of any similar picture work in comics, though Joe McCulloch pointed out in a recent column that the “thickening character outlines” in Dash Shaw’s latest comics show some similarities.

So with all the weirdness, illogic, and inscrutability, why do I keep rereading my copies of Reynolds’ comics?  While they are shadowy and vague, they deliver strong jolts in a particular “key” – a bit like having a disturbing dream – when you wake, you don’t recall how the narrative started nor all the details of what happened, but you very strongly recall how the experience made you feel and all of the emotions and memories it set off.  I feel I’ve been transported – shown just enough of an alien-yet-familiar world that I want (perhaps need) to revisit in order to gain some truth or understanding about.  Again, like dreams, Mauretania is a mix of scary and compelling: an experience craved.

Reading Mauretania Comics:

I first learned about Reynolds and his Mauretania Comics the way many American readers probably did: through reading cartoonist Seth’s appreciation of them in The Comics Journal #265 from 2005, which can be read here.  Seth called Reynolds “the most underrated cartoonist of the last 20 years,” and he went on to discuss/dissect four of Reynolds’ short stories and his graphic novel to examine their quirks and effectiveness.  I’m planning to rather shamelessly imitate Seth’s method below, but I’ll attempt my own spin and I’ll talk about three tales separate from those Seth picked.

I started reading with the collection Seth was celebrating – “The Dial and Other Stories” – which is now available through Reynolds’ website (see “For Further Reading” at the end of this article).  Impressed by its contents, I soon sought out single issues of Mauretania Comics, and bought several – though not a complete set – from Mile High Comics online.  I filled in the gaps somewhat by purchasing two reprint collections – “Adventures From Mauretania” and “Cinema Detectives” – through Reynolds’ website here.  Finally, I scored a copy of the excellent graphic novel, simply titled “Mauretania” (see review here), via

I enjoyed reading these works again and again, each time soaking in the mystery but believing there was more yet to be gleaned, but it seemed like I had hit a wall: there were no additional Mauretania Comics to read.  Sure, I could try to track down the few individual issues I was missing, but, as Seth noted in his article, since “Mauretania” (published by Penguin in 1990), Reynolds’ “… appearances have been few and far between.”  Like Seth, I came to the conclusion that Reynolds had quit comics and moved on to other pursuits.

I was pleased to find out not long ago that the world of Mauretania (along with the Cinema Detectives) had moved online in recent years.  Reynolds was creating new stories for the Kindle and other e-reader platforms (note: you don’t need to own a Kindle to read the stories – you can download the software for free to your computer or mobile device and purchase the stories for a modest sum).  Many of these new works were different in tone and appearance (for one thing – color!), but others felt like continuations of the old exploring-Mauretania experience.  I look forward to delving further in in the future, and I will discuss one of these newer stories below.

Story #1 – The Dial – Uncertain Future Unravels the Past, or Truth Seeking Merits Punishment:

NOTE: From here on, I will be discussing story specifics, so it’s safe to say there will be ***SPOILERS!***

The first story I’ll examine – perhaps my favorite of Reynolds’ works – is “The Dial.”  It is rather unusual, in that it doesn’t star any of the author’s “regulars,” which are Monitor (a serious-faced man who always wears a sort of space suit), Robert Rebor, and the Cinema Detectives (primarily Rosa Pleck).  Instead, this one features Reg, who is “going home” after Earth has lost a space war against the AUS ("Aragon Union of Systa," according to some post-story notes), an alien empire of some sort.  It isn’t clear what Reg’s level of participation in the war was (is he a soldier?), but the year is said to be 2087.

Reynolds’ art in this story is both rough and masterful.  On the opening page, he seems to draw in only the shadows of the scene.  A lot of panels are dark with Reg in silhouette and facing mostly away from the reader, making him seem harder to read, indistinct, even doomed, which works well for the story.  The “blankness” of Reg allows the reader to “fill in” his emotions and expressions.  As with many of his stories, Reynolds provides several panels of isolated buildings and remote, windswept landscapes as transitions between scenes.  In Reynolds’ stories, these seem nearly as important as the stories’ events themselves, lending a denseness to the time passages and the land/world of Mauretania itself, as the scenes show man’s decaying grip on the ancient landscape and give a sense of the viewer floating through time and space.  This is put to especially good effect at the end of the story, as silhouetted Reg ascends helplessly into a gray and black sky of jagged criss-crossed lines and blobby clouds, lost perhaps forever.

But back to the story!  Reg returns to his home to find his parents gone, but the house and furniture intact.  He calls a friend, Steve, and discusses getting together, while mentioning that “no one I’ve spoken to knows how it’s going to be, either.”  This sense of uncertainty pervades the entire story.

Reg looks at some old photo albums and notes some weird, hooded figures lurking in the shadows in some of the pictures, and he wonders about them.  He doesn't recall them being there before.  Steve calls back and asks Reg to come visit him instead, so Reg catches a bus.  The bus breaks down, and, while Reg is waiting for the driver to return with help, he explores a chapel beside the road, one he’d never noticed.  Above the door to the building is a sign Reg wonders about, which reads “The Dial.”  Inside, Reg confronts a woman who smiles at him but does not speak.  Steve shows up and hurries Reg out into his car.  Reg says he was going to ask the woman whether the chapel had always been there, and he wonders why Steve rushed him out.  Steve answers that the place made him uneasy.  “I felt I was going to find out things I didn’t want to know,” he tells Reg.  Like about the mining going on near Reg’s home, he says … Reg wouldn’t want to know more about that.  Reg doesn’t believe there’s any mining going on, so Steve takes him to the site, where there is, clearly, mining occurring.

Reg eventually confronts the site manager, who is a “puppet” for the AUS.  This “man,” who wears dark glasses and a robe-like garment, notes that Reg’s home had sustained some fire damage, but is otherwise being preserved (which is strange, because there was no damage previously).  He and Reg discuss The Dial, which is apparently a religion of sorts.  Reg asks the man if The Dial has always been around, even in the years before the AUS.

“Yes.  It’s been here for a long time.  We started it.  It paved the way for you to accept us,” the AUS puppet explains.

“I don’t believe you.  I’d have known,” Reg responds.

“Well, we are a force of great gentleness,” the man counters, as if that explains things, and then he adds, “I’m sure you remember now, the time when, as a child, you prayed to The Dial in your sleep … the members who adopted your family.”

As Reg explores more of his world, he finds it less and less hospitable to him.  And his house seems to be in worse and worse shape every time he returns: first there’s the fire damage, then the power’s out, and, finally, the place has pretty much been leveled as the mining operation has overtaken Reg’s land.  Warning him that this is inevitable, the AUS puppet says, “You’ll just have to accept that things are changing.  There’s no place for you here, now.”

Reg seems to be getting that message all around.  He goes to an amusement park, and the fortune teller says, “I can’t really see anything for you, besides, you don’t need me – you have The Dial.”
Reg also talks to The Dial in his head, and, at one point, he hears it to say, “There’s nothing here for you.  Even in defeat, Reg, even in defeat we’ve got to face the bright lights of the future.”

Arguing with himself/The Dial, Reg is defiant, and he finally decides to return again to his home, which should be nothing more than a pile of rubble at this point.  Strangely, it’s intact.  He sights some space planes flying overhead, and, next, finds himself floating up and out the window into a dark, gloomy sky.  As he ponders what it might mean, he hears a door slam, and sees lights on in his house.  Looking in a window, he sees his parents.  As he bobs in the air outside, he hears his mother say, “You know, a night like this always makes me wonder … when Reg will come home.”

A final large panel shows silhouetted Reg, floating in a jagged line-clogged sky, trapped between it and the black shape of his house.

So what does it all mean?  Hard to say, though I’ve some thoughts.  That Reg was actually dead and a ghost the whole time seems like the most obvious theory.  Reg didn’t survive the war, and this story is sort of like “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” by which I mean he pokes about his old world, finding himself less and less a part of it, until he realizes he really ISN’T part of it anymore and is dead.  Perhaps Steve, the friend he meets up with, is dead as well?  That could work as an explanation, but then why all the stuff about The Dial, the quasi-religion?  And why the questions about whether The Dial had “always been around?”  The AUS puppet does talk about how his people are “a force of great gentleness,” which could translate to Reg being made aware of his death in as gentle a manner as possible (except it’s not gentle), but that does not really seem to fit.

Or maybe there’s no clear cut answer, and the story simply creates or emphasizes moods or feelings of dread and loss.  There’s an air of defeat – the story begins with Earth coping with its loss to the AUS in a space war, and Reg talks of “how it will be now” several times.  His family is, at first, gone, and his home decays to ruin very suddenly, until it’s finally back to normal, but he is stuck floating in the sky above it, unable to interact with it or his parents and sister.  He’s lectured to by the AUS “puppet,” and told by him (it?) and the voice of The Dial in his head that “there’s nothing for you here now.”  Not only is Reg told he’s got no future – move on, go away, you don’t belong – his past seems to have been stolen or corrupted somehow as well.  Shadowy beings show up in old photos, beings he doesn’t remember having been there, and the AUS puppet tells him members of The Dial or AUS “adopted” his family.  In one sequence, Reg, standing in the ruins of his house, notices a tree, and thinks, “The tree where we built the old tree-house.”  The next panel seems to corroborate this, as it shows a picture in a photo album of the tree with a tree house and waving figures in it, but then Reg sees a different tree and thinks, “no … that tree,” and the next panel again shows a snapshot in a photo album, but this time depicting the tree house in the new tree.  Changes in Reg’s new reality seem to be reflected in what might be considered immutable relics of the past.

Reg pushes forward continually trying to find answers, or a place for himself, vowing to “rebuild,” but he is seemingly punished for his efforts, as his memories are distorted, and even the weight of his person is taken from him.  And yet he is trapped between his new, hellish reality and the glass ceiling of the sky.  It is truly nightmarish.

Reynolds’ explorations of the fluidity of time, past and present affecting each other in strange ways, dreamlike, decaying landscapes, and nightmarish happenings continue throughout his stories.

More in Part Two, to come soon.  Part Three will be an interview I conducted with Chris Reynolds.  All artwork is copyright Chris Reynolds.  Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A New Project, Evangelizing for Comics (I guess!)

I read and love comics - comic strips, graphic novels, and, most of all, comic books.  I want to make them.  I can't stop thinking about them a lot of the time.  I obsessively search for the next comic that will "jazz" me up.

And I'm a writer.  I used to review minicomics here:, but I ran out of new minis to write about AND I ran out of steam for a variety of reasons (i.e. see "real life sucks sometimes, don't it?").

Anyhow, without turning this into too long of a post, I wanted to get this new blog up and running by stating my intent.  Here 'tis:

I figured that, to start with, I would review my personal Top Cartoonists ... perhaps my Top 5 or Top 10.  Likely going to go for ones who are less well known than mainstream.  I want to look at some of their work (in an article format), explain why I like them and what I like about them, and, if I can get lucky enough to indulge their patience, include a short interview with them.

I don't want to make any big promises that I'll keep to some schedule or go much beyond my original "mission" (comic book "evangelism"), but I sure hope to "preach" a lot more here about comics ... a truly exciting and often effective art form.

So that's my statement of purpose kinda ... will maybe try to expound on it, or at least "beef it up," later.

First subject up should be Chris Reynolds, creator of Mauretania Comics.  In a week or so, I hope!