Sam Ombiri on Benjamin Marra’s Night Business.
Sam Ombiri here: When I first read Night Business by Benjamin Marra I was really mesmerized. I was coming into the book with Terror Assaulter in the back of my mind – and it had blown my mind. Reading Night Business feels like trying to look up at the sky but then having your head forced to the ground, the ground that you were avoiding looking at because of the mess afoot. At the beginning of the comic, however, Marra gives good reason for the reader to engage with it. I mean it’s not like this isn’t a fun book to read, but the calamity that the characters face feels all too real, and the hope that they reach for seems even more real. At least until nearly the end of the book it does. How can I not keep reading; I can’t!
For example, at the beginning we are introduced to a character who is just awful, but the death that she almost immediately suffers kind of counterbalances how awful she is, and I suddenly found myself really sympathetic to this character whom I had disliked. To me it’s just like “How?” I mean murder is such a horrific thing to witness, and Marra goes out of his way to present the murder (and really all the other murders in the book) in the most perverse extreme possible, but the narration of what happened and the way it happened was lyrical and unexpectedly heartfelt. The book was mourning for the tragedy it was indulging itself in a couple seconds ago and the “mourning”, so to speak, doesn’t feel any less heartfelt. There’s another character who sums up that while Krystal wasn’t the nicest person she didn’t deserve to die like she did. Then next time this killer strikes it’s with a much more likable character, and it’s more devastating.
I’ll admit I was pretty suspicious of how well Ben Marra knew what my reaction was going to be towards the first character’s death. I’ve been going back and forth on whether the reader should be told what to feel so well; as in the proper reaction being dictated for the reader to have. It seems important for a maker to dictate or at least consider what the reader’s reaction should be, but there’s something that’s a bit disheartening, as reader, to know that the author has gone ahead of me to dictate what I should feel. At the same time, however, that’s what I kind of expect a maker to present to me; isn’t it?
There’s this brilliant thing that Austin English said: “Cartooning is made up of artistic choices (like all art) but also information. Bad when info is used unsubtly (most biography comics), interesting when silently embedded into every choice.” That’s what constantly impresses me with Marra’s work – that the information, as Austin puts it, is “silently embedded into every choice.”
The comic is also a constant rush, but with a lot of finesse. It’s like watching a Ballerina dance gracefully to heavy metal. The clock is ticking and with every panel I feel it ticking. The bodies are, sadly, piling. At points, one of the main characters (Johnny) keeps taking these pills that give him extra strength, so there’s a moment where he’s captured and we spend that part of the comic just waiting for the torture he’s going through to activate the effects of the pills he took. It’s really cool how this is an element – it’s like a countdown inserted in another count down which causes me to get more invested in the story. It reminds me a lot of Man O’ Metal, where the bulk of the comic is where this superhero is powerless unless electrocuted or set in flames. So there are moments in both these comics where everything becomes about waiting for the character’s powers to activate, to get him out of whatever hurdle he’s in.
I resonate with this idea of being empowered by what would ordinarily kill you, which also feels like a major theme in Night Business. Especially with this other character, Cathy, who goes through the most radical shift after she’s been attacked and becomes this unstoppable vigilante. Her transformation is also really lyrical – both the words and the sequence of events and how they’re presented have this amazing feeling.
I heard Marra describe Night Business as climbing a mountain after a lot of false starts in trying to make comics. I’m assuming he’s talking about the first part – he clearly feels no qualms in confronting any challenge, be it the way the story unfolds, or the subject matter, despite how impossible it might feel to execute. At no point does it feel like Marra was second guessing himself, but I did get the sense that what he was trying to pull off was difficult, and I could see all the work that went into certain moments when reading it. – Sam Ombiri
Joanie and Jordie – 3-15-18 – by Caleb Orecchio