One of the most surreal ongoing comics in recent memory comes to a close.
David Lapham must think that some of his fans got frustrated with the book. This last installment opens with one alter ego of the main character interviewing another. “How hard do you have to work before somebody gives you a chance?” asks the interviewee. “People say I’m a liar, that I’m a hipster, a poseur, a phoney. ‘He’s full of shit,’ they say. Just throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks. One guy even described me as ‘masturbatory.’”
“What the hell am I supposed to say?” the interviewer shoots back. “This is our eighteenth session. At first I thought it was funny. Eccentric. After the seventh session and all that shit about the Martian bugs in the trailer park? I called my editor and said there’s nothing there. The guy’s a fruitcake.”
Except that David Lapham wasn’t just throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks.
Let me back up. Before this David Lapham was best known for Stray Bullets, an innovative but comparatively conventional crime series (compared to Young Liars, that is). Young Liars suggested to readers that it would be similar, setting up a group of six young friends who fight, dance, get high, and travel to Europe together to escape the detectives sent by the father of one of their number (Sadie Dawkins) and steal a painting from the father of another. If you look back at reviews of those early issues, the assumption was that this was all heading to a major crime spree.
Then came the seventh issue, when it was revealed that Sadie Dawkins is actually a spider from Mars. Her father intended to impregnate her with millions of spider babies, soldiers for an invasion of Earth, but she escaped, came to Earth, and hid out in a trailer park. Her father caught up with her but she managed to kill all his spider minions except for five.
Then in issues 8 and 9 things seem to go back to normal. Danny Noonan, the main character and narrator, tells us that the spiders were just a dream of Sadie’s, a metaphor for her abused past. Except…not really. A few more issues and Danny’s institutionalized and the doctors are telling him there never really was a Sadie. A few issues after that and he’s locked in a town where everything is fake and designed to hold him and Sadie hostage—only Sadie doesn’t know she’s Sadie anymore. He escapes to the edge of town, hits a wall, looks through a knothole, and sees himself raping someone. And on from there to this climactic installment, which opens with the interview quoted above.
In other words, the surrealism comes less from the absurd idea of an alien invasion than from gradual dislocation of reality Lapham manages to effect. On top of Danny’s growing uncertainty about what’s real and what’s a dream or a gaslight, we as readers have to deal with the fact that every so often he stops and confesses that everything he’s just narrated is a lie. Characters reappear in different versions of reality wearing the same faces but remembering nothing of what we’ve seen them do before. Danny loses his penis and regains it, has a spider tattoo on his chest sometimes but not others, horribly burns his torso more than once and then loses and regains the scars.
This is surrealism that forces you to surrender to associative rather than linear logic. One could argue that it’s the first true surrealism in comics since Jim Woodring’s Frank (or maybe Sam Kieth’s The Maxx). It’s certainly the first comic I can remember in a long time that I felt challenged me in ways I wasn’t expecting.
You can download a PDF of issue #1 here. It’s a good sample of the art, but as I said, the story doesn’t go totally bonkers until about issue #7. Two trade paperbacks are out already: Vol. 1 collects issues 1 to 6, Vol. 2 collects 7 to 12. I expect they’ll put out Vol. 3 within a few months.