guttergeek the discontinuous review of graphic narrative

April 2008

Rebekah Cynthia Brem, Misericordia (Archaia Studio Press, 2007- ), issues #1-2 of an 11-issue miniseries.

by Jared Gardner

Alright, I have never done this before and it may come back to haunt me, but I want to sing the praises of a comic book only two issues in. Misericordia is a projected 11-issue mini-series that tells the story of a dystopian future in which humans live underground and humanoids alone inhabit the surface of the earth. There is much still to learn about the story Brem is telling here, but the unique talents on display in this remarkable book make it worthy of immediate attention and even, at times, slack-jawed admiration.

Brem brings an animator’s sensibility to the work, and indeed the book’s pacing, surreal vision, and sparse use of dialogue will remind many of some of the best European animators working today. This is the kind of vision we need to see more in comics today—where the plastic possibilities of the body and of reality are fully exploited as only comics can do. The artwork is simultaneously stunning and raw, an odd and unsettling combination of professional polish and art brut that lends to the book the sense that somehow the whole story was composed in an underground bunker between shifts at the humanoid slave camps. Two issues in (with the third due out shortly), we know almost nothing about how the humanoids came to dominate the earth or why the humans allow themselves to be so dominated. But with no background narration and only a handful of words, we do learn a remarkable amount about Solita, our lanky protagonist, and about the miseries of the daily life she lives. And here I don’t just mean the somewhat familiar sci-fi backstory details (her mother arrested by humanoid police when she is a girl, the daily grind of forced labor). But without a word, Brem makes us understand the complicated strength and vulnerability of her protagonist, her attraction to and loathing of the humanoids who control her destiny, her empathy for the powerless, and the burdens of being beautiful in a monstrously ugly world.

But mostly I want to highlight
Misericordia to point out how very different it looks, feels, and reads than most of what we find on the shelves these days. The plot itself is basic dystopian fare, so the secret does not lie there. Instead, the strange power of this book lies in a completely fresh take on the possibilities of the form itself and a generous (perhaps too generous?) faith in the reader’s capacity to fill in the blank spaces with demons and desires of her own fashioning. Despite having an animator’s sensibility, Brem does not simply turn in a book of storyboards here or rely on virtuouso “camera” work for emotional effect. Instead she trusts in her pencil and unique palette (gouache and gold leaf!) to do most of the affective work of the story, forcing the reader (like the inhabitants of this future world) to suffer through the silences and isolation the book describes.

I can surely imagine this book burning out (although the strange precision of an “11-issue miniseries” suggests Brem has her roadmap well plotted ahead of her). But at a time when comics are going through another one of their routine crises of faith and imagination, it is invigorating to read a comic that reminds us how very new a comic can look, feel and read in the right hands. I am in for the 11 issues and looking forward to see where Brem’s career unfolds into the future of comics, a future that is a bit less dystopian thanks to