Graphic madness

Cyclops: Contemporary Canadian Narrative Art

By Philip Hawes

A review of Cyclops: Contemporary Canadian Narrative Art by Edited By Marc Tessier and Helene Brosseau

Published on April 1, 2003

Cyclops: Contemporary Canadian Narrative Art
Edited By Marc Tessier and Helene Brosseau

conundrum press
$19.95
paper
224pp
0-9689496-8-1

This is the first English-language publication by the collective behind the francophone anthologies Cyclope and L’Enfance du Cyclope. There are 25 artists in this collection, all of whom seem to be based in Montreal. The anthology bills itself as “contemporary canadian narrative art”: a euphemism for comics and their graphic relatives that attempts to distance these creations from their spiritually/intellectually flimsy Sunday funnies counterparts. Unfortunately this label seems ill-conceived, since the narratives of thse individual works are their weakest elements.

Nevertheless, the graphic art itself if mesmerizing. It’s difficult to pick up the book without becoming spellbound by the intricacy and scope of the graphic madness within. A plethora of visual minutiae which consistently overpower any supposed narrative await the attentive reader. It’s rare to come across an art form which is popular and yet so individualistic. A brief review of some favourite individuals works will give an impression of the breadth achieved by this remarkable conglomeration.

“Untitled” by Obom

This charming autobiographical comic recounts the author’s childhood up until the age of eighteen. This is the only work in the collection to make use of a manic stipple effect, whereby much of the frame is covered with the application of millions of tiny pen dots enabling subtle and painstaking gradations. Otherwise, the style of illustration is childlike and primitive, to the extent that the narrator’s gender only becomes evident on page seven – her pigtails had seemed like antennae.

“The Sefiroth Tree” by Jean-Claude Amyot

Despite the goofy-looking protagonists and the mystifying philosophy, this is a graphically complex comic. Nature is portrayed with a dizzying array of techniques. The landscape morphs from minimal and fluid flowing line to blocky dabs of black ink. Amyot appears to be the only artist in this collection not overly concerned with having a “style,” choosing instead to adapt his agile pen and brush directly to the psychologial (or psychedelic) effects desired.

“GMO Raizin” by Siris

This is a shockingly peurile, grotesque work which succeeds as savage social caricture in the manner of Dadaist George Grosz. Siris has an aesthetic of cruel invention and of unrelenting sadism, as disquieting as it is funny. GMO Raizin is an eternally doomed mutant raisin enslaved to corrupt capitalists for the use of his perversely large tongue. The “tongue cuffs” are especially nightmarish.

“Chers Voisins” by Jean-Pierre Chansigaud

This slice-of-life commentary on St-Henri surely loses something in the translation, but nevertheless its satire’s aim is true. Chansigaud’s neighbours resemble a hot dog-munching zombie horde, yet he breathes life into them by placing them within a finely observed architectural space, with buildings rendered brick by brick and sidewalks crack by crack. There is a real sympathy behind his despairing sarcasm.

The overall effect of this collection is one of contrast: supernatural supercheerful benevolent cosmic bunnies, Burroughs-esque insects burrowing out of Disneyesque heads, pagans riding dragons into the cosmic zygote, postmodern orientalist photo montages, idiot savant lewd couplings on the back of masonite, constructivist circus collages, Montreal as a claustrophobic panoply of mutants, and two completely divergent works with almost the same title, one using “The Thanksgiving Amoeban Exact Method of Drawing,” the other epic cross-hatching. (Apologies to anyone omitted.)

Cyclops may fail to convince in its claim to “contemporary narrative art,” but despite the self-conscious cuteness, the wanton perversity, and drug-fueled mysticism, this is a colleciton of artists of undeniable talent who are testing the limits of the medium. Each work has an accompanying photograph (or illustration) of the artist to indulge our visual prejudices, and a succint biography as well, several of which are amusingly self-deprecating. mRb

Philip Hawes traveled from Edmonton to Frog Lake in the summer of 1991, under the auspices of the Alberta government. There, in an empty field, he hammered, as instructed, a sign proudly proclaiming the contributions that Alberta Lotteries had made to that community.

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