DEGA is an ambitious, self published graphic novel from 2000AD artist Dan McDaid. It’s a slice of high concept, high quality science fiction which feels like it could have come from a vintage issue of Heavy Metal, and as such is is as beautiful as it is bewildering.
Publisher: Dan McDaid
Writer: Dan McDaid
Artist: Dan McDaid
Price: £15.00 from Dan McDaid’s Online Store
Our story begins with a young female astronaut attempting to repair her spacesuit in a junk ridden planet. There’s echoes of Rey from Star Wars here, as well as other established female space heroines going it alone in the depths of the galaxy. The story then veers off, partly into a sort of space journal where she is escaping from tentacled beasties, (but also into a dreamlike section about surreal visions of tube stations), before finally going through to a mysterious underground cavern with more tentacled beasties and grotty aliens who chase after her.
Narratively DEGA is a bit of a struggle as there doesn’t feel like there is a consistent thread running through the story. It feels more like a stream of consciousness story, or series of moments, than a coherent story. So when McDaid throws in nuggets about memory and the effects of long term space exposure then you begin to make assumptions about what all this might mean to both characters and reader.
While it would be very easy to critique this book and say it doesn’t make sense, you almost get the feeling that is the point. The stream of conscious narrative feels very purposeful, as does the sudden shift in art style half way through – that sees it goes from muted colours (reminiscent of the brilliant Sentient), to a more traditional 2000 AD black and white. There’s no obvious reason for this, and it doesn’t entirely make sense, but you feel like there is a purpose to it and that with repeated reading you may finally unravel it. (Not every comic needs to spoon feed you everything, after all!)
While the story may not totally makes sense to us, at least you can enjoy McDaid’s stellar art skills as you attempt to figure it out. Compared to his more polished work-for-hire jobs, this whole thing has a gorgeous raw energy to it that feels almost sketched at times (The production notes will shine a light on this in the back of the book). It feels like early Frank Miller or John Romita Jr Daredevil, with it’s scratchy pen and ink approach, where you can almost see the pen marks on the paper. But it also has the finesses and technical skills of someone who is used to drawing Mega Citys and grizzled Judges.
The whole thing feels very organic, especially the hand drawn lettering which really adds to the DIY feel of it and gives it a kind of intimacy. While the odd page also seems to zoom in on smaller sections artwork, emphasising the brush strokes, and even enlarging the letters as well, all of which felt very Frank Miller-like (but in a good way!!)
Overall DEGA is a really interesting, albeit unconventional read – but aren’t comics like that always more interesting? While we’ve compared it to avant-garde Euro sci-fi in the pages of Heavy Metal, the story it reminded us of most was Dylan Teague’s amazing Codename D in Aces Weekly – which shares it’s rambling narrative and gorgeous visuals. However DEGA has much more substance and scale to it than that did.
Although it feels like a book which needs a bit more structure and explanation, that would also take away the mystery and enigmatic nature of it all. Even without an obvious plot there is still a really spectacular book within the world of DEGA, one which has real imagination and creativity exploding from its pages. What it lacks in immediacy it certainly makes up for in quality and ambition, as you search for the meaning in this truly unique and otherworldly story.