I’ve only ever heard the term “obscurantist” used pejoratively, which makes it sort of strange when Hans Rickheit uses it in his book jacket copy to describe himself: “The Squirrel Machine is the legendary obscurantist cartoonist Hans Rickheit’s most ambitious graphic novel to date.” To me “obscurantist” means someone who goes out of his way to obfuscate or otherwise hide his meaning, and I’m not sure why Rickheit would claim that’s what he’s doing.
If anything I think “meaning” is secondary to Rickheit’s project. Usually I start these reviews by concentrating on a comic’s story, but in The Squirrel Machine the images and the impressions they create in series matter a lot more than the story, which is often deliberately nonsensical, or at least has nonsensical sections bridging otherwise narrative sections. These are stark black-and-white drawings made to look a bit like etchings, sometimes depicting scenes a little like the wildly popular Flash game Submachine. There are also decaying and mutilated animal carcasses, some connected to monstrous musical instruments that remind me of Manhog from Jim Woodring’s Frank.
The effect overall is often something like the Black Lodge scenes from Twin Peaks.
The carcass instruments are built by a pair of brothers in 19th-century New England. There’s a woman who keeps a herd of pigs and introduces the boys to sex and disgust, and a door under their bunk bed that leads to a world in which they themselves become part machine.
I don’t think I can explain the story any more than that, though, without doing it an injustice. You’ll like it if you didn’t feel the need to explain the one half of Mulholland Drive as a dream of the other half (which it wasn’t, you know). Otherwise you’ll just think Rickheit’s being an obscurantist.