Thursday, 22 July 2010

Review: Fingerprints, Will Dinski (Top Shelf, 2010)

Will Dinski | 20x13cm, full colour, 96 pages | $14.95 | Shipping August

The biggest struggle I faced when planning a review of Fingerprints was exactly how to go about classifying it. It’s not that the elements of its narrative make-up are hard to pick apart (far from it), rather in the way writer/ artist Will Dinski chooses to combine them. Beginning as a melodrama about the dysfunctional life of a plastic surgeon; it suddenly contracts its focus, becoming a classic Science Fiction story. Much more than simply "Nip/Tuck meets The Outer Limits” though, it’s an intricate satire about beauty, artifice and warped desire, and one of the most structurally impressive graphic novels this year.

Fittingly, the superficial world of Fingerprints is introduced to via a television movie special, in which a grizzled blockbuster director is being interviewed about his latest feature. Over-glossy, soulless and starring two manufactured megastars, it’s a vapid by-the-numbers piece of Hollywood trash by all standards, perfectly capturing the book’s core theme of homogeneity.

Behind the impeccable jawlines of the movie’s actors - Vanessa Zimba and Casey Kansas – is renowned cosmetic surgeon Dr Fingers, who is just as creepy as you’d imagine a man called “Dr Fingers” to be. The main focus of the book, it soon transpires that Dr Fingers has his fair share of character flaws. A negligent and psychologically demeaning husband, his quest for cosmetic perfection has left his wife an emotional husk. Unaffected by her growing depression and vigilant against even the slightest physical flaw, he is engaged in a bizarre affair with Zimba, who he considers his surgical pet-project as well as his “masterpiece”.

Obsession and self-hated collide as Fingers and Zimba gain sexual gratification from surgical talk. Weirdos.

An extremely economically effective storyteller, Dinski has the rare ability to create a living, breathing world with sparse and efficient exposition. In testament to this, the characters feel as if they’ve really been allowed to exist independently of narrative restrictions, and thus the reader’s role can feel voyeuristic at times. A genuine sense of unease begins building as the story progresses, with layers of moral corruption gradually overlapping, creating a critical mass of subplots ready to explode forth when the true nature of the story is eventually revealed at the climax of its second act.

Occurring just over midway through the comic, Dinski introduces the “Face Augmenter”; a $499 consumer gadget that is probably best described as the iPad of facial mutilation. Offering users the ability to alter their facial appearance at the touch of a button, it is programmed with just two patterns, modeled on Zimba and Kansas. Providing a single, symbolic manifestation of the comic’s satirical concerns, the Face Augmenter contracts the various subplots into a single narrative channel, hurtling the reader towards the story's inevitable conclusion. 

This sudden genre switch is a daring move, but one that pays off with dividends. Recalibrating the reader’s expectation of the story entirely, it becomes clear that it is a traditional Science Fiction parable. Taking a single, objectionable quality of culture and expanding it to a societal level in order to expose its intrinsic flaws is a classic device of the genre, is used effectively here. Much like Aldous Huxley’s seminal novel Brave New World, the strength of Fingerprints is precisely in the biting plausibility behind the outlandish yet logical extreme its topic is taken to.

Jello Biafra's got nothing on this plastic surgery disaster.

Dinski's principle strength is his compositional talent and layout design. Like Chris Ware, he has a fondness for tight, geometric panel arrangement, adding and intermittent clarity and complexity to his stories via which he showcases his exceptional sense of pacing. Structured flawlessly, there’s no mistaking that he’s a creator deeply attuned to the unique potentials of the comic book form, here and in his other work. In Dinski’s very much recommended interview with Tom Spurgeon in 2008, he detailed his approach, revealing that the uniformity of his panels enables him to rearrange them later in his creature process; a pragmatic method not dissimilar to movie post-production.

Fittingly, the book has gone through somewhat of a facelift itself. A vast expansion of Dinski’s original 2008 self-published comic Beautiful, Cool and Irreplaceable (featuring 96 pages in comparison to 48), it’s great to see it get the full-colour, hardcover treatment that it deserves. A modern-day parable about the societal implications of venerating an unachievable standard of cosmetic beauty, it’s a well-crafted piece of comic literature and well worth a look. Be sure to over to the Top Shelf website now for a 5 page preview. Incidentally, I hear that reading comics gives you inner beauty; just look at me, for example.


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