This weekend sees the Small Press Expo kick off in Bethesda, Maryland and in preparation for that event I wanted to delve into one of my favorite SPX discoveries, Scott Morse. Morse generally brings home the bacon working as a character designer and storyboard artist for Pixar and you can see his work in such short films as YOUR FRIEND THE RAT (on the RATATOUILLE DVD) and MATER’S TALL TALES. Last year he even painted a couple of beautiful film posters for BRUTE FORCE and TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI for Criterion’s ATP Festival; fingers crossed those good folks snatch the man up into their catalogue of cover artists. He’s done some work for the Big Two on minis like Catwoman and Elektra, but Morse became a hipster darling thanks to beautifully odd comic books like Soul Wind, Spaghetti Western, The Barefoot Serpent, Little Book of Horror Frankenstein (with Steve Niles), and Southpaw. As much as his art is derived from comic book legends it’s also a great celebration of Cinema. His latest is no different.
Strange Science Fantasy is a collection of six stories, each at least as a starting point, centering on a classic film genre. The Drag Race picture. The Samurai Saga. The P.I. Noir. The World War Adventure. The Boxing Set-Up. And it’s all connected by Indiana Jones. The back of the book describes the contents as “…a most unique amalgam…untold tales of Gods…a fantastic new tome of pop-culture as religion…” Is it in on the wink or is it just a pretentious mess? I don’t know? We’ll get to that. What is obvious is that Morse’s signature brush painter style is in full effect and it’s easy to imagine each panel hanging on your wall next to your priceless Picassos and Jack Kirbys. Hyperbole aside, this is some beautiful stuff.
The book opens with the drag race. After a questionable splash page, the second panel announces “The Time: Soon! The Place: The Asphalt!” A Road Warrior apocalypse setting, drivers hopping from car to car pulling pistol triggers and crashing fists into faces. Our hero takes a speeding tire to the noggin in a crackup that brings images of Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof bloodbath to mind…well, maybe not. This is just too damn weird. Two panels of strange science depict the birth of a new Gearhead soldier, The Headlight! A man with a bulbous headlight beacon for a head. Obviously, it doesn’t take long to understand that Strange Science Fantasy is going to be of a surreal nature and if you’re not hip to it after the first few pages it’s probably best that you just put the book down and walk away.
The second story has another strange, heroic birth and another whacko landscape. A wandering Mifune literally fights starvation as sea life has evolved to defend itself from desperate fisherman. The Shogun slices and dices monstrous tentacles to no avail; he travels to the peaks of the mystics and there Samurai scientists forge The Shogunaut. Launched into space The Shogunaut meets with The Cosmic Mind and learns of his enemy The Knucklehead, a “master of the seas, and of all beasts that dared maneuvered in her depths!” But should these two warriors combat each other or will they find peace in a great matchup against the self-important higher beings?
It’s funny. As I fruitlessly attempt to describe the plots of these absolutely bugnuts stories I feel that I’m doing a great disservice to the book. Strange Science Fantasy is too damn bizarre to reduce to plot descriptions. I could go on and describe my favorite segment, that of the gumshoe Projectionist out to prove that Film is not dead, that he’s just hold up somewhere hiding from the despicable greed of The Producer. Or I could try and tell you how a 1930s jungle explorer ties these fables together while battling prehistoric beasts. But I can feel the eyerolls out there.
I love Strange Science Fantasy. But it’s not about the plots and it’s definitely not for everybody. This is comic books as jazz or beat poetry. You have to relax. Soak it in, absorb. Allow the brush and the panels to just wash over you. It can be a breeze to read. Flip, flip, flip. Done. Or you can analyze and over-analyze the genre conventions. There’s not great meaning here, its all rather obvious stuff. But Morse is having fun. You should do the same.
IT’S BIG BOOTAY!
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