Comics Time: Driven by Lemons

Driven by Lemons

Joshua W. Cotter, writer/artist

AdHouse, September 2009

104 pages, hardcover


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So yeah, this is pretty much the ideal Josh Cotter comic for me. Didja like the bizarre, symbol-laden wordless reveries of Skyscrapers of the Midwest? Here’s a whole book full of them! This shit makes the locust/migraine sequence from Skyscrapers #2 look like Dilbert! What’s it about? In large part, who cares? Like (in my experience) most great comics, it’s about how, and what, it makes you feel. It makes me feel like one of those ’80s special-effects sequence where some being’s exterior shell is chipping away and beneath each chunk that falls off a blindingly bright white light shines out like a beam–like that’s basically what Cotter did to his own brain to produce this thing, and like that’s what you run the risk of if you stare too long.

That’s essentially what Cotter does, visually, over and over again throughout the book: Something will cause one of Cotter’s nominal protagonists (anthropomorphized Life in Hell bunnies, pretty much) to spew forth from his person an amount of visual information that totally overwhelms them and the page itself, scribbled and scribed like a Charles Crumb notebook, and at one memorable point caked/painted with watercolors squeezed straight from the tube. In that light, and considering the first section’s apparent Chicago setting and slow evolution into comics from a straightforward-ish stream-of-consciousness prose-plus-doodles diary format, it’s tempting to read the book as some sort of autobiography: a story of the onset of, treatment of, and recovery from mental illness. For what it’s worth, I interviewed Cotter about his life and work at length for The Comics Journal and such an incident never came up, though I could have just whiffed on it. If I’m wrong, so much the better for Cotter, because having dealt with the mental-health institutionalization of two people very very close to me, this is about as accurate a representation of what I always pictured going on in their heads as you’re gonna find. Noise, blotting out signals and forming its own.

Glorious noise, too. For all of the books insular inscrutability, several passages here stand out with an effect as awe-inspiring as a great visual effects sequence in a blockbuster by some genuine Hollywood visionary. The paint explosion. The great cloud of scribble, with sensuously tangled lines looking like they’ve somehow been carved through other lines. The marvelously reproduced, bright reds and blues representing warring states of mind, popping off the off-white pages like 3-D. (The whole book, a facsimile of Cotter’s sketchbook, is really an astonishing work of design by Cotter and Chris Pitzer.) The forward momentum of the chase sequence, with two bunnies battling for supremacy in frame after Haring/Muybridge mash-up frame. An eruption of a column of red that rockets into the sky so powerfully you can practically hear the noise. And a creepy cameo by the mad god Dionysus, quoting the soundtrack from the animated Transformers movie, rings out as a reminder of madness after all is said and done like that dissonant shot of the cab’s rear view mirror at the end of Taxi Driver.

Outstanding work. Where the hell does he go from here?

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