Sunday, March 1, 2015

Happy Will Eisner Week, Day 1: Cochlea & Eustachia

This year's theme for Will Eisner Week is "Read a graphic novel." So in honor of this event, I am going to review a different graphic novel each day this week.

Will Eisner is credited with popularizing "graphic novel" as a term in his aim to publish (you can read more about the matter here). The legend is that he approached multiple publishers for his book A Contract with God and could not get his foot in the door saying he had a comic book for adults, so he shopped around a "graphic novel," and eventually he was successful. I am honoring his work to publish new forms with a look at a relatively new venue for publishing, webcomics. Cochlea and Eustachia is a author-produced work that was taken up and printed by a major alternative comics publisher, Fantagraphics.

Creator Hans Rickheit wrote on his website that this work "will be completely unencumbered by tempo, character development, plot, or logic." I would not go quite that far, but the adventures are pretty surreal, grotesque, and compelling. The book follows the exploits of two blonde females who wear domino masks, tops, and nothing else. Are they friends, sisters, or something else? I have no idea. But they are mischievous, not completely human, and they find themselves in mysterious circumstances. They are often pursued by weird creatures, like a mole-faced scientist or a giant chicken skeleton or a troublesome clone. The book has its own compelling logic, which thematically reminds me of a combination of Jim Woodring's dreamlike worlds and Phoebe Zeitgeist's random, titillating tribulations. 
Hans Rickheit is known for his prior work on the Xeric Award winning Chloe and his graphic novel, The Squirrel Machine. As you can see from the excerpt above, his art is full of clean lines and well rendered images. His balance of cartoon and reality makes his surreal stories even more affecting and disturbing.

The reviews of this book I have read tend to be on the positive side. Jason Sacks called it "a hauntingly lovely creation." Publishers Weekly summed up, "It’s deeply disturbing, and that’s just what was intended." Zack Hollwedel concluded his review, "The book won't be for everyonein fact, it probably won't be for mostbut this off-the-beaten-path tale fills a definite, albeit small, dark and fetishized niche."

This might not be a book for everyone, but its existence points to the grand result of Eisner's work, that today graphic novels of all sorts are being published. What was once a highly marginal text format now has much more status than ever before.

Cochlea and Eustachia continues as a webcomic. This edition was published by Fantagraphics, who have a preview and more here.

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