Friday, 4 June 2010

Review: Pneuma, Daniel Locke (self-published, 2010)

Should have gone to Specsavers.

Not many self-published comics can claim to come with a dust jacket, but Daniel Locke’s Pneuma manages to pull it off with panache. Coming dressed to impress, readers will be relieved to hear that there’s plenty of substance to go along with the comic’s svelte, black, bespectacled exterior. 28 pages long, it collects four short vignettes about unexplained phenomena, mysterious circumstance and the horrors of war. Be sure to read on after the jump to have your burning need to know what the title means met.

The title itself comes from the ancient Greek word for “breath”, but is more commonly utilised to mean “spirit” in Judeo-Christian text, which is appropriate considering the haunting content of the strips. Collecting Locke’s work from several different analogies in 2009, it’s a great, economical way for people who have enjoyed one or two of his contributions to experience more of his idiosyncratic style. Rather than seeming incongruously strewn together, the individual strips (which originally appeared in New British Comics, Komikaze, Solipsistic Pop and Banal Pig’s Landscape) are neatly tied together by a unilateral set of themes, which converge to give Pneuma an overarching identity of its own.

Mostly told via first-person monologues, each piece reads like a cloudy refraction of a specific memory or event. “No Word of a Lie” and “Green Fireball” seem to be autobiographical, recounting paranormal experiences, (ghosts and UFOs, respectively). “George Watts” is an altogether less supernatural affair about a conscripted fisherman’s terrifying experience of being locked inside a ship’s magazine during a bloody WWII battle with the Nazis. Concluding the collection is the longest and most “complete” of the strips, “Spring ’09", which  features visions of yet-to-be-born child and waking up naked on the roof of a hotel; yikes. Inquiring minds will be pleased to know that the latter strip is currently showcased in its entirety over at Arthur Magazine's online comic section (curated by Floating World's Jason Levian, no less).

Q: What's E.T. short for? A: Because he's got little legs.

Locke’s “hovering” narrative approach creates a ubiquitous feeling of detachment in the stories, which is further complimented by his unique visual style. The characters and environments retain faithful proportions and demeanor whilst simultaneously having an un-outlined “cut-out” quality about them. Delightfully straddling the chasmic cartoon gap between expressionism and realism, it’s as if the artwork is struggling against itself, desperate to detail the fantastical undertones of the stories whilst being anchored by their (usually) mundane setting. It’s in this conflict that the chief appeal of his work lies, with his dissociated prose and off-kilter illustration forming something in the ambiguous middle-ground between memory and reality.

Overall, the style of the four pieces is very much in line with Locke’s recent contribution to Solipsistic Pop 2 (our review here), making Pneuma well worth checking out and a great avenue for getting to know or catching up with the current trajectory of his work. Mysterious, captivating yet assuredly human, it's available for £4 at the awesome UK-based comic/ zine store Good Grief!, if you’re at all into ghosts, UFOs or nudity atop tall buildings, this is definitely the one for you. Every self-published comic should have a dist jacket, boring old hard-backs shouldn't have all the fun.

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