Sam Ombiri here with Florent Ruppert and Jérôme Mulot’s Barrel of Monkeys!
Sam Ombiri here: I’ve been reading Barrel of Monkeys by Florent Ruppert and Jérôme Mulot. The rhythm is strong in this book. During those moments when we’re waiting for things to happen, and for the story to progress, the characters – even if they are standing still – are full of motion. There’s a real indication of life, and there’s an abundant amount of life in their words, too. In a lot of ways this book demonstrates that a little goes a long way.
In the story with the man with a scarred face, we’re in claustrophobic small panels, and then suddenly a large panel (to emphasize distance). It adds to the ambiguity of what happens next. Before all that, there’s an amazing sequences where two Portraitists imagine how the man got all those scars, and the ending to that story is such an amazing question mark. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever read.
This is one of those books where each strip is executed so well that I’m almost afraid to keep going through it, because there’s loads of material following that’s just as effective, if not more so. I’m afraid to take any strip for granted – I can’t stress that enough with this one. I was reading and reading, and then I felt I had to stop. I was bombarded with so many good sequences that it was almost nerve racking – plus the drawings are really excellent.
The seemingly horrific moments didn’t nudge me to react in an obnoxiously specific sort of way, where it’s a detriment to the comic. The comic causes more laughter than anything else, with masterful execution. It doesn’t overreach, it doesn’t claim the darkness that it coats itself in as automatic lucidity. It doesn’t drown on it’s own self importance. Instead, it has a ball with it, and what’s found – be it profound or whatever – is left up to the reader.
There are comics that I encounter sometimes, where instead of the comic saying “this character is cynical”, the whole comic is a character who is cynical. We end up being forced to hear from the author how amazing they are for being just so cynical and so insightful. I feel like certain cartoonists in the past have really pulled it off well, but it’s a relief to read Barrel of Monkeys, because the characters aren’t untouchable and witty – but at a distance but would obviously be more cowardly when confronted. The characters are often confronted, which is great. The characters are very comical, but also subdued. Their mechanical movements, and mechanical dialogue, reminded me of a funnier and more tragic Yokoyama. The disdain exhibited for each person is so compelling, and so intensely injected in every drawing and panel of this comic, that there’s a real beauty to it all.
Lately I’ve been finding that the best practitioners of the medium are those who are deeply affected by the medium, and they can see what it is that affected them. With Barrel of Monkeys, it’s two collaborators, and reading the work they made, I can only imagine that it must have deeply affected them while making it, because it really affected me.
In some comics, when I read them I sense this rush to get to a feeling, and instead of relying on the medium to get to this feeling, the reliance is being put more on the rush to the feeling itself. The comic seems to be constantly talking about what it could be, rarely taking a break to appreciate what it is right now, what it’s doing now.
It seems like people are trying to establish (or reestablish) a canon of what one is obligated to respond to, in the midst of this movement of relying on the rush to get to a certain feeling, as opposed to the medium. I have mixed feelings about this. I’m not so much here to say what someone’s obligated to like, but at the same time I want to say that the success of Barrel of Monkeys is inescapable.
As time goes on, accomplishment is being more and more being associated with recognition. Creativity has many enemies, and hunger for recognition might be the biggest one. So when I give a comic accolades for this reason it feels like I’m making a mockery of the work; because I’m not giving accolades for the sake of giving recognition. Real enthusiasm is independent of recognition. The success of Barrel of Monkeys is so inescapable that I’m not worried about making a mockery of it by giving it accolades. – Sam Ombiri
Collected from the thousands of pages of material that Frank has left scattered all over the digital landscape, these 4 PDF collections contain Frank’s best writing on comics and comics making from the past decade. Theory and process, reviews and discoveries, journeys both physical and spiritual.
Vison Box – 3-1-2018 – by Cameron Arthur