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 https://strangerspublishing.com/products/disco-lavante-by-garresh
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