The Crowded Abyss : Garresh’s “Disco Lavante”

Here’s the thing : on paper, at least, there’s no compelling reason why Scottish cartoonist Garresh’s Disco Lavante (Strangers Publishing, 2022) shouldn’t all make sense. It’s straightforward, uncomplicated, maybe even tidy. We’ve got lost souls endlessly roaming the void that exists beyond the pale courtesy of a good, old-fashioned suicide cult, and finding that — generally speaking — whatever sort of “existence” there is after this one ends probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Kinda like life on Earth, I suppose, only weirder, more oppressive and, if you can believe it, even more pointless. Except —

That might not be what’s going on here at all, even if it is. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s very likely only part of what’s going on here. Rest assured, however, that my aim here isn’t to confuse you — more to honestly convey the confusion that this nicely-done oversized comic ‘zine stirred up in me. Which, for the record, is no complaint — regular readers know I enjoy a challenge and don’t mind spending a fair amount of time wrapping my head around something. But the possibilities here are are, in spite of what the previous paragraph would have you believe, bordering on the myriad, and the same is true of the number of considered analyses one can can derive from the book . This is one of those things you’re better off, at the risk of sounding glib, feeling your way through.

Be aware, though, that the process of doing so is necessarily a pretty fucking grim one. “Feel-good” material this is not. It’s not without its humorous moments and instances, that’s for sure, but it’s “gallows humor” all the way, and to the extent that it sustains a cohesive tone, that tone is decidedly nihilistic — for the most part, at any rate. Garresh seems to be positing that there is, in fact, a way out of (or should that be beyond?) the idea that all is lost, but he certainly takes his time getting to that conclusion, and seems a bit ambivalent about it once he (sort of) arrives at it.

Of course, I could have it all wrong — I told you there were any number of ways of looking at this comic, and another perfectly plausible one is that what I take to be an afterlife is actually a post-apocalyptic wasteland that’s entirely real (as in, it exists on the physical plane) populated by displaced refugees “overseen” (if that’s the term we want to use) by a Rip Van Winkle-type who is viewed in undeservedly messianic terms by the masses. It’s hard to say for sure — but again, you might find it as simple to interpret as I have this strange, lingering feeling that it’s meant to be. Hell, I’d go so far as to say that I earnestly hope you do.

What’s not up for debate is the quality of Garresh’s cartooning — dark, evocative, nuanced, foreboding, and textured in the extreme, I may be having a hard time processing everything he’s communicating narratively, but visually his work rings loud, clear, and true. He’s definitely mining some heavy — and heady — conceptual territory, but his ravishingly grotesque artwork functions as a tonal tour guide that leads you through some uncomfortable (to put it mildly) places in such a way that you can’t help but give it your full and undivided admiration. You may not want to go where he’s leading you, but you sure won’t want to look away once you’re on the path — even if it would probably do your overall mental and emotional disposition some good to cut tail and run, trust me when I say that simply isn’t an option here.

So — where does that leave us? Hoo-boy, I wish I knew. But given that I freely admit I was in over my head from the start here, I can’t claim to be any more flummoxed by this book by the time I reached the end of it, so there’s that. I loved the art, obviously. And I appreciate the raw power of Garresh’s visuals and how they convey precisely the sort of atmosphere that’s required for this comic to work — which is an admission that it really does work. And Eddie Raymond at Strangers is to be applauded for publishing something this challenging and, frankly, demanding. But you’re going to want to make sure you approach this knowing full well how relentlessly and unapologetically dark it is. Be prepared for it to stick with you for quite some time — for good, for ill, or for some of both.


Disco Lavante is available for $10.00 from Strangers Publishing at

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International Film Review: How I Fell In Love With A Gangster (dir by Maciej Kawulski)

For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to fall in love with a gangster.

*cue Layla piano coda*

How I Fell In Love With A Gangster is a three hour Polish film, one that the audience is told is based on the true story of Nikodem ‘Nikos’ Skotarczak (played by Tomasz Wlosok), a career criminal who became a bit of a celebrity in Eastern Europe during the late 80s and 90s.  The film follows Nikos from his unhappy childhood in Poland to his time as one of Eastern Europe’s most notorious car thieves.  He assembles his own crew and, while he does steal a lot of cars, he also seems to be a rather amiable criminal.  He’s not the type of criminal who kills people or who even threatens to kill people.  Instead, he’s just looking to make some extra money, have a good time, and defy anyone who would try to tell him what to do.  He’s the type of criminal who would rather deal with trouble by escaping out a window than by drawing a gun.  At least from the way that he’s portrayed in the film, it’s hard not to like him.  As more than one character points out, he’s hardly a gangster.

Unfortunately, things change.  Nikos does a few stints in prison.  Each time he gets out, he discovers that the underworld had become a bit more violent and that it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to stay loyal to his old business associates.  He may not be a gangster but the people around him definitely are.  The cops are still after him.  Two rival gangs expect him to support them in a gang war.  Nikos just wants to snort cocaine, spend time with his latest wife, and try to be a good father but none of that turns out to be as easy as he was hoping.  Also haunting Nikos is his own belief that his family has been afflicted with a death curse.  Every six years, one of his relatives dies violently.  Eventually, Nikos believes, it will be his turn.

It’s a bit of an odd film.  The story features a framing device, in which a young reporter interviews an older woman who was in love with Nikos.  The majority of the film is told in flashback but, throughout the flashbacks, Nikos’s friends and business partners often break the fourth wall and talk straight to the audience.  Occasionally, this is used to good effect but it still leaves the viewer wondering just who exactly is telling the story.  The film’s 3-hour running time also feels excessive.  For every scene that really works (and there are quite a few), there are other scenes that are a bit too derivative of other gangster films.  As soon as Nikos partnered up with a criminal named Silvio, it was obvious that the audience had reached the part of the film where the clever and honorable criminal mastermind would have to deal with an out-of-control subordinate.

Flaws and all, the film did work for me.  A lot of that was due to Tomasz Wlosok’s charismatic performance as Nikos.  Over the course of the film, Nikos went from being a fun-loving, hyperactive criminal to being a rather sad and defeated middle-aged man, isolated from his former associates and waiting for fate to intervene.  Wlosok was never less than compelling in the role.  Though the soundtrack was occasionally a bit too on-the-nose, the use of Moby’s One Of These Mornings added a certain poignance to the film’s final scenes.  Finally, the film itself looked great, providing a nice contrast between the industrial drabness of communist-controlled Eastern Europe and the neon-infused glory of Nikos’s life as a criminal.  In the end, Nikos emerges as a tragic figure, a man who just can’t understand how or why the underworld has suddenly become such a dangerous and unforgiving place.

Music Video of the Day: GO OFF (Nuthin’ 2 It) by Dillon Francis (2019, dir by The Dads)

If this music video from Dillon Francis doesn’t make you happy, I don’t know what to tell you.  Who can’t enjoy a video about someone who finds a new confidence and a love for dancing?

The gentleman in the video is played by John Gemberling.