Purely as physical objects, Alexander Laird’s self-published comics are things of exquisite beauty : lovingly riso-printed, uniquely formatted, conceptualized to a degree that’s flat-out exacting, they stand as a testament to both dedication and determination in equal measure, their execution representing an inherently harmonious marriage with the singular creative vision behind them. I honestly don’t know of any cartoonist who works as hard at holistically integrating the creative with the technical, whose inner artist is so “in tune” with their outer artisan. Each of Laird’s books has the look and feel of an object carefully made by hand.
That being said, anything that is presented this well needs, by default, to feature content that lives up to its presentation, and that can be tough when you’re pulling out all the stops as far as production values go. Laird’s latest, Burg Land 1 : Sleemore Gank, certainly earned high marks across the board from me, but his earlier effort, Oubliette, leaves perhaps a bit to be desired on that score — but is still plenty fascinating as a prima facie example of a legit autuer finding their footing as they go along and developing the themes that would come to be regarded as central concerns in their work.
Stated less pretentiously, this feels like a “warm-up exercise” for ideas and approaches that would eventually end up becoming fleshed out more fully later. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that — in fact, it’s crystal clear that Laird’s been in firm possession of a vision for what he wants to achieve in this medium from the outset, it’s simply that this largely-wordless tale of explorer/academic Jest The Scholar venturing through the ruins of a thought-lost civilization and having to survive a monstrous onslaught of, well, monsters is, all told, a less-thoroughly-realized version of what this same cartoonist would do next.
Which, I admit, makes this review something of an unfair exercise on its face — after all, if I’d read this first, I might very well have been blown away by it, rather than “merely” being mightily impressed. On the plus side, though, there’s no question that I did still find it mightily impressive, so if Laird happens to read this at some point, trust me when I say : a win is a win. I still found this to be a remarkable work in the truest sense. And while I may not recommend it as highly as Burg Land 1: Sleemore Gank, I think its status as a kind of blueprint for that comic means that it could very well especially be of interest to those who, like myself, read the latter first.
Or am I wrong about that? I mean, if you’re a Laird “newbie,” this is certainly a great place to start and it gives you a flavor for his utterly unique methodologies and sensibilities. By turns frightening and fun, and drawn in a style that both reflects and magnifies the ultimately-optimistic outlook of its insatiably curious protagonist, it’s a comic about learning and exploration that learns and explores the medium’s formalities and, more importantly, its possibilities in unison with its narrative. I invoked the term “holistic” earlier, and there’s absolutely no doubt that this is a breathtaking working example of that principle writ — and drawn — large.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, then : this is not a recommendation tempered by any sort of caution — it’s an enthusiastic and unreserved one. Sure, I liked Burg Land 1 : Sleemore Gank a bit more, but so what? I liked that more than just about anything I’ve read recently, and the list of “stuff I didn’t like quite as much” includes a lot of damn fine comics. This is one of them and, furthermore, one of the better ones at that.
Oubliette is available for $12.00 from Alexander Laird’s website at https://sensitiveathletes.bigcartel.com/product/oubliette
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