by Martin Vaughn-JamesThis is flawless. Recurring and interlinked motifs — a cage or machine, a hospital bed, an explosive gout of ink or blood, sequential images, architectural desolation, the passage of time, monitoring devices — trace an oblique story steeped in menace and isolation, conveyed through dissociated image (exacting, perfect, cold, still) and narration (hypnotic, abstract, eliding between meanings, slipping unexpectedly from detachment to violence), lapsing in and out of sync but in constant dialogue nonetheless. It's utterly unique in the comics form, bearing more similarity of feel (and influence) from 60s/70s film and literature than from the underground comics scene that paved the way for sophisticated visual narrative. Tellingly, it was put out by Canadian avant-garde literary press Coach House, notably responsible for keeping Nicole Brossard in print.
Anyway, it's essential.
I was recently trying to draft some kind of a list of favorite comics ever, not necessarily inarguably best, certainly not most influential or historically significant, but subjectively those that speak to my imagination and aesthetics*. I came up with about 15 titles, most from the last 15 years or so, since that's more the period of my attention, and of the availability of the works themselves. Which underscores that I need to read more comics, better comics, particularly those more outre versions of earlier eras.
And then, the Cage. I'd been hearing about this for ages. Rumors, breathless reviews, a friend at a party: "There's a library upstairs — they even have a copy of THE CAGE". Its legend around it like a labyrinth, a city, a plain of cryptic totems. And now at last it's been reissued, and it entirely lives up to all of that.
So what is this about, exactly? That has remained a fine-honed mystery since the Cage's release in the mid-70s, but it's hard not to get strong feelings from it. Nothing could suggest it to be meaningless. The titular cage is an oppressive overriding image, at times superimposed upon or perhaps interchangeable with a bleakly isolated hospital bed, sometimes surrounded by observing instruments, sometimes subject to extraordinary instances of deformation and destruction. Humans have been removed from the action, but their absence tears a hole, surrounded by abandoned personal effects and an at times overwhelming affect, even if frozen, trapped in glass and in time. An instant seems to lie at the center; it is repeatedly built towards, rehearsed, reiterated as many versions of a single provisional event. What that is, what violent or rending or significant act of moment — this is at the center of the mystery of the book, but it is real and significant. To impose a single meaning on it would be to deprive it of its occult power, but I could advance several, with an array of evidence to back it. Like all great works, this kind of interpretation only traces the outlines of something greater that can never be fully articulated.
*I mentioned the subjectivity of that list, above. So here, arrayed for consideration, are some of those subjective qualities that I am irrevocably drawn to: architectural precision, atmosphere, surrealism, formal experimentation, abstraction of story or visuals, ability to operate without dialogue to strong overriding narrative drive for stretches, immediacy of experience. So not so different from what I might look for in a book or a film (I have some fairly consistent overriding interests — realizing this completely changed my reading, actually). Examples (on a kind of spectrum from silent abstraction of experience to a more traditional, albeit fantastic storytelling structure) would be Yuichi Yokoyama's Travel, Hans Rickheit's The Squirrel Machine, and Charles Burns' Black Hole.
|eBook format||eBook, (torrent)|
|Publisher||Coach House Press|
|File size||1.5 Mb|
|Book rating||4.02 (158 votes)