From the death of a friend, insightful near death experiences, hallucinations and slice of life, this small press spotlight from Nova Scotia based Conundrum Press has it all! Have we just discovered a small press gem?!
July Underwater (Zoe Maeve)
July Underwater follows recent graduate Lina who is spending her summer at the beach. Unfortunately, Lina’s childhood friend Alicia has recently passed away, and as this coincides with her leaving university, Lina begins to consider the big existential questions: what really ties people together? What happens to friendships when you are no longer anchored to each other?
Written in diary entry format from Lina’s perspective, the reader gets a look into her psyche and the emotions she is feeling at the death of her friend, Alicia. It seems that Lina is mourning her childhood as much as she is her lost friendship; this theme of loss definitely ties in with her finishing university. As natural as the process is, she feels almost guilty for moving on.
With allusions and call-backs to Virginia Woolf’s famous To The Lighthouse, this comic pays tribute to Woolf’s stream of consciousness style, with clever musings about time, its significance, and the meaning of single lived seconds vs the expanse of all eternity. The art is really gorgeous, especially the coloured, diary entry panels, which have a nostalgic, sketchbook vibe to them.
The Weakly Dispatch (Rick Trembles)
The Weakly Dispatch by Rick Trembles is an auto-biographical passion project starting just before the first case of COVID. This amusing comic strip is a trip down memory lane reminding us of all the strange things that become the norm during the height of the pandemic: the hoarding of canned food, decontaminating our deliveries, what we can get away with as ‘essentials’ when shopping, and attempting to read ridiculously giant books that, without being locked in our house with nothing to do, we’d never go near (did all of us go through a Ulysses faze?! That was a dark time…).
But these strips aren’t just about COVID, although it plays a big part as the backdrop! From rubbish landlords, noisy neighbours and some interesting quarantine food concoctions, Trembles accurately and deprecatingly captures an acute moment in history that we all experienced, whilst still going through the mundanity and annoyances of everyday life that we can all relate to. The dry humour may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it definitely works in this format. I really enjoyed the experimental art style – it gives call backs to newspaper/comic strips with its vibrant colours and ‘issue-like’ segments. If you want to look back on the whole COVID experience and give yourself a giggle, I’d recommend picking this one up. (Warning: adult humour throughout).
Maladies (Henriette Valium)
Maladies is a graphzine for all readers interested in the weird and wonderful world of the human body and its many, many possible diseases. Published in English for the first time since its publication in 1984, this disturbing read is not for the faint of heart. To read through Maladies was a truly mind-bending, deeply strange experience. The illustrations are really disturbing, with distorted and deranged faces peering at the reader through black and white panels.The accompanying text is just as hallucinogenic, with purposely misspelled words, bad grammar, and back-to-front lettering. If you enjoy trippy reads, you’ll definitely want to pick up this one.
The imagery is often grotesque; there’s a lot of brains and blood splattered among the panels, and bodies being constricted in unnatural ways. The uncanny bodily movements reminded us a little of Gareth Brookes’ fantastic graphic novel The Dancing Plague, in which the people move unnaturally like puppets, as forces beyond their control contort their limbs. Maladies is utterly absurd and makes very little sense, but something about its weirdness makes it difficult to look away from. (Warning again for adult content and violent images)
Next Time Around (Billy Mavreas)
If someone asked you to tell them the story of your life, where would you start? What are your defining moments? For the unnamed narrator in Next Time Around, his life begins with a near death experience; before that, he has no story. This is his one, life-defining moment. This feeling of a new beginning is, I’m sure, very relatable to people who have also survived near death or traumatic experiences – for our narrator, it gives him a renewed appreciation of life, and a fresh perspective on what’s important.
As this short comic is only 37 pages, I can’t go too much into detail without spoiling it, but the spiritual aspect which accompanied the story was refreshing. Our narrator has an out of body experience during his near death experience, where he is able to leave his body and visit some old memories – I thought it was lovely that he found this calming, rather than distressing, as is usually the case when we think of death. The art style is great, with black and white outlines when the narrator is speaking in the present, and more detailed charcoal art for his memories. A moving, and surprisingly calming spiritual read.