The most exciting thing about Weasel #1 was not even its founder, Dave Cooper’s, new-found scratchy serious style. It was this groundbreaking short by short-lived contributor Patrick McEown, presented here as I believe it was originally envisioned:
Man, if somebody had given Steranko a foldout that long, he would’ve beaten you to it, McEown! As it stands, the book had to print this just as consecutive two-page spreads, not McCloud’s endless scrolling internetameta-panels or what have you. Thus, it made little sense to many readers (as evidenced by the explanation in the following issue’s letters page) until now?
Click to view full-size in a new window and then click again to zoom. Now scroll away and see if you can figure it out. I’ll wait…
OK, maybe the best point-of-reference is not Steranko. That’s just a formatting issue. Formally, think Eisner’s Spirit pages.
Got it? It’s not that difficult in this new format to discern the conceit. Space=space! The entire megapage is a schematic. Panels are rigidly linked to the space of the building. McEown does not allow himself the freedom artists usually have to vary the environment and the angle of the shot from panel to panel. The left-hand side of the page must be the left-hand side of the building (in cutaway).
This has, of course, been done before. The same character can be found repeating across a consistent space as far back as Greek wall paintings. But McEown has one more trick up his sleeve: Panels still function as units of time. Space=space, but time is being manipulated. This is comic book quantum physics.
And to add a further kink, time is not moving, necessarily, from left to right. That’s space. Confused yet?
Zoom in twice again and look at what’s happening between panels six and seven on the third tier down, as well as six and seven of the bottom tier (and those are not, must I add, lined up vertically). Spatially, in both instances, one character seems to be becoming another as the pass through a doorway. In the third row, our lesbian janitor hero(?) becomes a Nazi-ish goon. In the bottom instance, our giant, pantsless oaf killing machine seems to have changed into heels. But AHA! that doorway they passed is also a panel! Time has elapsed. In the lower case, backwards.
You know comics are formally great if they make your head hurt this badly the first time through. It’s like those Sunday New York Times crosswords with the bubbles–
So, time is moving backwards in one case? Well, not backwards per se. Time has no direction, really. McEown just realized if he was restricted so intensely in space, perhaps he needed to free things up a little with time. Thus, time is not tied to the conventional left-to-right read.
The first question to ask becomes, “Then where do I start?” Well, almost anywhere really, but it seems McEown is encouraging us to start with the title.
Aaaargh! Which title?!?
Oh, sorry. Forgot he opted for the Beckett ending. Uh, let’s say the upper left. Hey, it’s traditional! So some scientists see a masked man entering their building. They stress. One drinks a cup of water from the bubbler. They never appear again.
Hmmm, that wasn’t so helpful. Let’s go down a tier. Ut, wavy fantasy sequence. One more tier. Aha! It’s her fantasy sequence. The janitor wishes she were a super heroine so she could rescue hot girls. Alright! Now we’re getting somewhere! She sweeps into the next room. The masked man from the monitor drops a key which we realize via some helpful arrows, making the whole thing even more like a game. Hey, another arrow says follow him! Let’s do! OK, so he’s upstairs and we’re on tier two. He runs into the next room, climbs into a vent, one more right–drat! Another fantasy sequence. What in the holy heck is going on. Wait, let’s backtrack. Space is space, right? Where does that vent lead? Well, his body language suggests he’s going up. Let’s look up one more tier. BINGO! He’s coming out of the vent here! He’s running to the right. Karate kick! Got it got it got it got it! Follow the characters through the space! Time moves with them, no matter which direction they are headed. This makes for some great fun with elevators and clotheslines. This is comics as Chutes and Ladders. The page is an action playset. Time is jumbled across it as character’s lives bump off each other in often violent ways with surprising coincidences, suspenseful near-misses, and bizarre allegiances.
What does it all add up to? Storywise: not much. I don’t think it was designed to be made heads nor tails of in that regard. Motivations are conflicting or non-existent. And it’s disturbingly misogynistic. And there’s no reason that a good portion of it is non-finished.
But in terms of blowing your mind? Exploding your notion of limitations in the form? Having a blast with comics as a limitless game? Flooding your mind with experiments of your own?
SO worth it.