So here’s the thing — I’ve reviewed this comic on this site already. But I haven’t reviewed this comic on this site already.
I realize that demands an explanation, so by way of such: Casanova Frankenstein self-published a “rough cut” of the book that would later become Tad Martin #7 in the form of something called The Adventures Of Tad Martin Super-Secret Special #1 about a year or so back and, being a junkie for all things featuring comics’ most endearing junkie character, I jumped on it right away, loved it every bit as much as I was figuring I would, and gave it a glowing write-up — that I’d actually prefer you not to read, hence the absence of any link to it.
The reason for that is simple: This is the way this comic was meant to be experienced. Austin English’s Domino Books pulled out all the stops for this version, knowing they had something truly memorable, unique, and maybe even combustible on their hands : oversized format, high-quality paper, heavy cover stock, and best of all — full, searing color. Get a ten dollar bill out of your wallet now, because you’re gonna be itching to spend it on this by the time we’re through here.
The ostensible focus of Frankenstein’s wordless narrative herein is a Halloween story entitled — well, “A Halloween Story,” but the vaguely degenerate costume bash that bad attitude king Tad attends is really just a springboard into an amputee (in the mental and emotional, as well as physical sense of that word) abyss, a phantasmagoria of wonders both parochial and profound, and of horrors both plain as day and thematically, conceptually complex; the sort of hellscape that draws you in with a veiled whisper backed up by a gravitational pull of inexorable strength, with no signposts to be found anywhere on the way down. Rest assured, though : if there are “off-ramps” branching off from this highway to hell, none of them are any safer than the straight descent itself.
Frankenstein has always managed to do something different in each of his outings with Tad over their nearly three decades “together,” but this represents the purest dystopian vision of both artist and protagonist yet, the harrowing autobio of the most recent iteration of the sporadic series, #sicksicksix, abandoned in favor of something even more honest and immediate : a direct transmission from id to pencil, pen, and brush to paper. If you want to know what it feels like to mainline a cartoonist’s nightmares, you’ve come to the right place.
And while we’re talking cartooning, Frankenstein’s has never been stronger — inky blacks thick as night, detailed yet not belabored figure drawings and faces, page layouts that bob and weave between the highly traditional and utterly innovative, demonic apparitions and entities rendered with an understated virtuosity that implies (or maybe even directly states) intimate first-hand knowledge of same. The recent — and highly recommended — Fantagraphics Underground collection In The Wilderness showed what Frankenstein was up to when the comics world assumed he was up to nothing, and this is the fully-formed work that emerged from the other end of his self-imposed “exile on main street”: a staggeringly confident and visceral, inimitable statement of artistic intent that is through taking prisoners and is, instead, well and truly out for its pound of flesh.
And yet anger seldom seems to enter into the equation: rather, Tad’s stock in trade is a kind of emotional hedonism, a desire to experience all aspects of life through the eyes of others while fronting a passive and observational bit of play-acting himself. On the one hand, yeah, he could give a fuck about everyone and everything; on the other, he can’t resist an open door into your most intimate secrets, fears, foibles, and even kinks. He shows up to the Halloween party by himself but only because, one way or another, he’s taking everybody with him wherever he’s going next.
And while it would be saying too much to give away just where that is, much less whether or not both it and the journey to it are “real” as we understand that term, it doesn’t actually matter either way : our ticket’s been punched, and we’re along for the ride. It’s not an easy one, not a pleasant one, and most certainly not a guided one despite being in the company of an infamous ne’er do well — but by the time it’s all said and done, you’ll realize it was never about him anyway, at least not in the direct, literal sense ; on the contrary, it’s about you, as a reader, being pushed well outside your “comfort zone” and seeing the infernal and heretical for what it’s always been: a reflection that shows all as it really is, and that accrues ever more power and mystique to itself the more we refuse to acknowledge it as such.