A technologically advanced society clashes with a Beat Generation sensibility in the second issue of Test from Vault Comics.
Fusing a spiritual quest with drug like hallucinations and an obsession with the possibilities of technology, writer Christopher Sebela has created a David Lynch-esq landscape populated with social misfits and science fiction cast offs.
In this second issue of Test, the history of Laurelwood begins to unravel along with it’s possible future. Sebela takes the fears of modern life and moulds them with an off kilter landscape to create a discussion about society. His central character appears detached from much of the world around him, lost in an addictive haze which allows Sebela to leap from idea to idea seemingly without connection.
However, there is a tightly controlled plot holding everything together and it only seems chaotic as the reader, like Aleph, wanders lost through the mysterious town of Laurelwood.
The artwork is as off kilter as the story it is trying to tell. Jen Hickman uses harsh inked lines to scratch out the characters in the panels, favouring shadows made of lines instead of solid blocks. This gives the images an eerie appearance almost as unsettling as swords thrust through hands or needles stabbed into arms.
The characters in Test have been rendered in such a way that the technological elements stand out on the page. Alien like handcuffs and upgrading implants appear more fluid and natural against the harshness of the humans themselves. The story is a topsy-turvy contradiction and the art work represents that.
The coloring attempts to match this approach to the world building. Harry Saxon uses unpleasant color choices for backgrounds and contrasts the technology with the natural world.
The highlight, from a coloring point of view, is the switch between the past and present in Aleph’s life. Saxon makes it clear which panels belong to in the past and which are part of Aleph’s modern day view. The transition is smooth and clear so as not to disrupt the flow of the story. The narrative jumps back and forth between the time periods with an easy distinction for the reader.
In contrast Aleph’s internal narration sweeps its way across the page linking the present to the past physically and ideologically. Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou uses a font unique to Aleph clearing marking out his internal dialogue from the rest of the speech.
Otsmane-Elhaou’s lettering feels as experimental as the rest of the art work. Small touches in the design of the speech balloons or the more obvious integration of sound effects into the artwork itself gives each page something extra for the reader to digest.
The break-up of large speeches and the positioning of speech balloons, overlapped with caption boxes, controls the reader on the page. The overlaying speech balloons create a naturalistic flow of conversation, similar in style to Steven Spielberg’s obsession with having characters talking over the top of each other in his movies. The effect is the same: it lacks the unnatural pauses between lines of dialogue making it feel more realistic.
Test is a visual onslaught. The panels seem to oscillate on the page as the narrative punches its way through. The creators embrace the comic book format while subverting it to create an uncomfortable world for the reader. There is a unravelling stream of consciousness that is not always easy to follow but that is the point. As a reader you are being pulled along by the meandering river of the narrative and expected to take in the sights. Only after the ride has finished do you have time to fit the pieces together.
Just like issue 1, Test #2 has an experimental theme running through it; starting with the plot and running through into the art. It is a fascinating experience and a pleasurable read if you allow yourself the freedom to let go of conventions.