Thursday Comics Hangover: Shedding some light on the subject

Maybe I'm jaded, but I don't see much in comics that strikes me as especially new anymore. It's not so much that it's all been done, it's just that very few people are still trying to push the medium forward in exciting ways. Who is experimenting with the medium and form of comics? Who is trying to break comics out of normalcy?

The first name that comes to mind when conjuring a list of comics experimenters is Seattle cartoonist Eroyn Franklin. I've previously called Franklin one of the greatest mad scientists working in comics today, and I just encountered one of her older works that strikes me as one of her boldest and most inventive works.

At Short Run last weekend, while visiting Franklin's booth, I asked about a book called A New Home. She demurred slightly, saying it was an old book and that she was working on a newer version. I bought the book anyway, and holy cow am I glad I did.

On the face of it, A New Home might sound like a gimmick. Here's the deal: the book is made up of silhouettes and splashes of color. It doesn't have panels; it's laid out like more of a picture book. So you look at a page, which has large, clear images and a few words. One page, for example, has the outline of a monster with its head reared back. The monster is white; the background is black. The words "And down, down, down she went" are in the upper right corner. It's a striking, minimalist image.

Franklin colored the reverse side of this page a deep, bloody red, and she drew a figure tumbling into a pit. So when you hold the page up to a strong light, a new dimension reveals itself: the inside of the monster turns red, and we can see it swallowing a woman. Every page of the book has a hidden secret that reveals itself when you hold the page up to light.

Comics are a dance between words and pictures. But with A New Home, Franklin adds a new partner to the dance: words and pictures interact, and then they interact again with the pictures on the other side of the page, creating a lively third dimension that lives in a realm that's perpendicular to the comics page.

A New Home is a simple story about a woman who goes exploring and faces grave danger. But the way each page reveals its secrets creates a new tension to the fable Franklin tells. Sometimes the secrets are gory. Sometimes they're pleasant. Sometimes they change the way the reader feels about the story.

Franklin is always moving and trying to discover new ways to tell stories through comics. But I hope she'll take a while to pause and reflect on the storytelling technique she employed in A New Home. The depth and excitement she brings to the page here with a simple but effective gimmick is too good to cast aside as a single experiment. There are new dimensions here for Franklin to explore, and a new light to view comics through.