Matthew Forsythe, writer/artist
Drawn & Quarterly, September 2008
Ojingogo reminds me of the immersive, action-intensive creature comics of Fort Thunder alums Brian Ralph and Mat Brinkman released by Highwater Books earlier this decade, books like Cave-In and Teratoid Heights. Heck, you could lump Brian Chippendale’s Maggots in there too if you wanted. Little critter guys wander around meeting other weird critters who grow or shrink or try to eat them in various configurations. There’s some video game logic to it, some children’s book overtones too. It’s a fun template.
But where Matthew Forsythe falls short of the Fort Thunder gang is in creating interpretable, continuous environments in which these adventures take place. Teratoid Heights, for example, was rigorously laid out from panel to panel; no matter how odd the protagonists or how nightmarish or isolated the space in which they moved, you could easily see the continuity from one panel to the next, to the point where he could cut to another character for panels or pages at a time and the second he returned you to the original character you still knew where you were. In Cave-In, Ralph’s sumptuous, textural backgrounds provided a sense that you were moving through a concrete, cohesive space. Maggots‘s frequently blacked-out backgrounds removed that tool from Chippendale’s continuity-of-action arsenal but provided a strange sense of unity all their own, while his intuitive Chutes ‘n’ Ladders layouts literally forced you to increase your concentration on continuity.
Ojingogo offers no such aid. Cuts between characters are frequent and sudden, with little to indicate why we’re switching viewpoints or where we’re switching our viewpoint to. This in turn makes it difficult to string together behavioral causes-and-effects for the characters and what they do. I was frequently at a loss as to why characters who seemed friendly were now fighting or vice versa, or why characters who were together were now separate, and so on. And when you have that much trouble figuring out basic things like the relationships between the protagonists, the creature-feature flights of fancy–growing, shrinking, transforming, etc.–become even more difficult to contextualize. By the end of the book I was just kind of turning the pages and looking at the pictures as much as I was reading the comic. There are certainly pleasures to be had in reading the book that way: Forsythe’s Koreana (is there such a word?) character designs are delightful, his line and use of graytones are pretty much perfect for this kind of comic, he has a real knack for body language (there was one sequence in which a Brinkman-esque giant squatted down to take a look at something that really strcuk me), and there are occasional moments of humor that made me chuckle (like when a pair of characters set up one of those box/stick/string traps to try and capture another creature, but it turns out he’s now like five times as big as they are, and he bounds past them, and as they stand there stunned, the box-trap falls shut on nothing). But with so little in the way of continuity of action or imagery, it’s a lot like reading little vignettes at random–you just couldn’t immerse yourself in it if you wanted to. Maybe this is a function of the book’s original life as a webcomic, but it makes for a frustrating read as a graphic novel, because you know how well it could work.