Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Review: Everything Dies 1 & 2, Box Brown (self-published, 2009-2010)

To quote the advertising material of Box Brown’s series Everything Dies, the comic “answers every question you have about religion and features God’s penis." Whilst the former claim is very much tongue-in-cheek, I can confirm that the latter is absolutely true, and, let me tell you, God is suitably hungDeistic dongs aside, Brown (the Philadelphia-based creator behind Bellen! and Xeric-funded Love is a Peculiar Type of Thing) has created a captivating new series that reflects on a selection of the world's major (and minor) spiritual traditions of life and death. In collecting and re-presenting this religious material, the comic offers a pensive, funny and sometimes even poignant look into the stories and metaphors our species has created to assess its own fragile existence.

Issue 1: "Heart of Stonework"

Having such a wide selection of material to draw upon gives the comic an appealing variety of content, with the first two issues being comprised of three distinct but intermittent sections. The first to appear, "Heart of Stonework", features a young Buddhist monk undergoing tutelage from his wise master. Appearing twice in each issue, these strips communicate the maxims and teachings of the elder as well as their effect on his student. Understated and charming, Brown chooses to play these sections straight; his illustrations of the Master’s philosophies and analogies are endowed with subtlety and create a welcome counterbalance against the more outrightly comedic content of other sections.

“The Book of Job”, as one might imagine, is the retelling of the Hebrew/ Old Testament tale of the same name. Updated into a modern setting, the story of God’s gambit with Satan over one man’s piety makes for pretty funny stuff. Here, Job’s friends reason that the mysterious divine punishments placed on him (death of children, loss of wealth, physical disfigurement, etc) might have been incurred by his potential submission to the temptation of “”. Whilst there's nothing innovative about the process of juxtaposing the old or ancient with the contemporary for comedic effect (like Arnold Schwarzenegger's Oscar-winning Hercules in New York), Brown's modernisation is suitably restrained and allows his humour to succeed regardless of the setting rather than because of it.

Issue 1: "The Book of Job" 

Rounding out the issues are the sections “Alpha” (issue one) and “Omega” (issue two), in which the creation/ destruction stories of various religions are relayed in super-truncated fashion. By the author’s own admission, the information in the book is “mostly gleaned from Wikipedia”, but the nature of his religious contractions is such that the comic succeeds on a loose educational level. Those unfamiliar with some of the less societally prevalent beliefs covered (including Voodoo, Zulu, Maidu and even Scientology) are sure to learn something new in the process of reading. In the same “about the author” section, Brown openly encourages readers to conduct their own research, and I must admit that my interest was sincerely piqued enough to do a little extra-curricular reading of my own. 

Mining religious material for comedy is well-trod ground (understandably so, given its importance on history and continued influence today), but here it is handled in such a delicate, thoughtful way that it works. Combining illustrated philosophical tales and parodic embellishments of Old Testament stories endows the book with a satisfying rhythmic variety that I’ve enjoyed more over each successive read. Treated with objectivity, the strangeness of these stories gives them an inherent humour, whilst remaining completely respectful. That is if you consider that the Judeo-Christian God’s massive appendage to be respectful, of course (and why wouldn't you?). Perhaps due to his background as a three-panel strip creator, the entirety of both issues demonstrate a key understanding of how to deliver humour and pathos efficiently without seeming heavy handed at all. Penis gag included, Brown's wit has such an subtle, appealing visual meter and timing to it, that I challenge anyone not to be at least a little won over by it. 

Issue 2: "Omega"; Sounds like my neighborhood on a Friday night. 

Full of its writer’s characteristic warm humour, the first two issues of Everything Dies are available now from Box Brown's webstore. Bursting with pocket-sized philosophy, gentle reflection with the occasional cock-joke thrown in for good measure (pun intended), Brown has stated that the comic is a reaction to the lack of issue-based indie comics on the market at the moment, which regular ATF-readers will know is an issue close to our own hearts. Well worth your support, we suggest that you head over to the creator’s site immediately (link below) and order a copy. Let’s face it, at one point or another, we've all thought that that the bible needed to be sexier. Holy phallus, Batman!


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