Monday, 24 January 2011

Review: Everything Dies Issue 5, Box Brown

Box Brown | Grimalkin Press, 2011 | 38 pages, black and white | $5 | Available now

Feeling spiritually bereft lately? Is your theistic gas tank running on empty? Maybe you’re just a little curious about matters of death and the afterlife? Luckily for you, Box Brown has returned with a 5th issue of his religion-themed web-and-print series, Everything Dies, for loyal fans and newcomers to eat up like tasty, tasty communion wafers. 

For those unfamiliar with the series, a typical Everything Dies story functions like a Bizzaro version of one of Jack Chick’s infamous tracts. Whereas a Chick tract typically utilises the comic form to disseminate religious intolerance and manic evangelical stories of the satanic evils of homosexuality, evolution, and Dungeons & Dragons (seriously.), Everything Dies offers an educational and (largely) objective insight into various world religions via illustrated parables, real-life stories, and fictional narrative.

Those who read my review of the first couple of issues may remember I have a particular fondness for Brown’s Heart of Stonework sub-series, to which this entire issue is dedicated. Originally appearing as short exchanges based on—but not strictly adherent to—Buddist kōans, in which an elderly monk imparts wisdom to his student, its characters have grown over time, creating a compelling character-driven narrative of their own.

The central character, an ex-monk, hides his ceremonial incense-burns underneath a bandanna and mop of wavy hair: perhaps a subtle re-enforcement of the comic's Bruce Springsteen-inspired title.

Although a direct sequel to the web-exclusive story “Cigarette”, this issue works well on its own merit, and newcomers shouldn’t have any problems making sense of this classic tale of challenged faith. The story follows a disillusioned ex-monk who abandoned his order and beliefs following the death of his teacher. Saturnine and filled with resent, he is presented as a man adrift in existential waters, bitterly rejecting his Buddhist past whilst still struggling with the spiritual vacuum left in its wake.

Serving to humanise religious belief whilst allowing Brown to explore his own atheism, Heart of Stonework has become the thematic cornerstone of Everything Dies, and the conduit through which the entire series is best understood. By fragmenting religion in such a way, across a collection of stories and publications, Brown presents it as it really is: an interconnected yet disparate collection of stories, ideas, and cultural concepts that have become tightly entangled over time. 

More than anything, Everything Dies’ chief success is that it is an exercise in theological reverse-engineering, breaking down the unfathomable whole to better understand all of its working parts. Until Moses comes down from Mt Sinai with the instruction manual, I, for one, am more than happy to watch Box Brown work on it.

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