- Posted by Johanna on July 17, 2006 at 3:11 pm
- Category: Minicomics
- CREDITS: by Sean Frost and Wendi Strang-Frost
The zero issue introduces the premise directly: William Denn has multiple personalities. The comic takes place inside his head, where these various characters interact. There’s a bar with a TV set, where the personalities watch what’s going on, and a stage, where they take over controlling him. Among many others, there’s an MC, Walter; a bouncer, Vinnie; and a writer, James.
The zero issue is essential for not feeling completely lost. It’s a good kind of lost, though. It’s the kind of lost that comes from knowing that a complex story is developing under the surface. Nothing here is predictable, and with patience, future twists will be revealed. The creators obviously have much more in mind than they’re showing us right away, and so we discover more of the puzzle with re-readings and future issues. In that way, the content of the story — a guy with a whole world in his head — is mirrored by the way the story’s being told. It’s fascinating to watch.
The subject is also engrossing in its own right. The creators have selected a clever metaphor to convey multiple personality disorder, and they’ve clearly done their research. The bigger plot deals with control, of course, as the various characters struggle and plot and swap turns on William’s stage.
Out of the Wilderness
The larger story, made up of minicomics 1-8, is entitled Out of the Wilderness. Many chapters are short — most are 8 pages, with #2 only 4 — but thought-provoking, with each focusing on one or two different inhabitants of William’s mind.
The first, “The Word”, introduces James with an incident showing the writer’s struggle to capture just the right turn of phrase. Beyond my immediate sympathy for the situation, it also evokes the frequent conflict between engaging in the regular activities of one’s life and secluding oneself to work on one’s art. James’ choice serves as a metaphor for the way artists often have to choose where to spend their precious time.
“Negotiations”, issue #2, hints more directly at the coming conflict. In issue #3, “Pyromaniac”, we meet Arty, a guide, and Mark, the fire-lover of the title, as Vinnie sets off on his mission. “Maelstrom”, issue #4, tosses a lot at the reader. Cass, the first major female personality, is introduced, as is the method of personality generation.
Issue #5, “The Witness”, brings us to the last group of personalities, the shape-changers. They’ve disassociated even more from the rest of the society, and as the living definition of flexibility, they’re never what you think they are. The writer is playing with the reader even more here than most issues.
“Revelations”, issue #6, gathers the characters together at the bar, where many of them learn for the first time about the existence of William. The variety of reactions — disbelief, defensiveness, resignation, boredom — is to be expected, as each personality responds in a fashion appropriate to their behavior. The reader is given more hints about how William interacts with these people in his head and the history of his condition as the characters begin searching for him, a twist I never expected.
As the various different characters are presented, the reader learns more about how the writer sees the world, with certain points underscored through the notes. Each issue is more symbolic than the one before, and the supporting conceits are clever. For instance, in the explanatory zero issue, the personalities are drawn as paper dolls, since William’s explaining them to us. It’s rather like watching someone put together a diorama like those you did in school for book reports and the like … only the ramifications here are more chilling.
Strang-Frost does an excellent job of illustrating just the right gesture to nail the meaning of a moment in a panel. Her style has flair while remaining easily readable, an important characteristic for a story that’s already so layered. The characters all resemble each other slightly, which makes sense, given that they’re all pieces of the same guy, but they’re still distinguishable through attitude.
The penultimate issue #7, “A Quiet Day”, is told wordlessly as William goes out to buy alcohol and a magazine. The actions aren’t important, but the discovery that William knows about the personalities is. I found the notes especially crucial in this case. Without dialogue, it helps to have the author point out what the timing of certain panels means. Issue #8’s concluding chapter, “The Wilderness”, packs all the characters introduced so far into 32 pages. I’m left thinking about psychology — William’s, mine, and others’ — and how all of us have different people inside us at different times.
The Johnny Public website, which featured the story online and issues for sale, is now defunct. The creators more recently were publishing as Hula Cat Comics.
The printed copies add color covers and creator notes and commentary, which I found essential in making sure I was grasping all the detail and depth of the content. I’m fascinated by the glimpse inside the writer’s head, again reflecting the story in the supplemental material.