Like a bolt out of the blue, multimedia artist Henry Crane’s first (and, to his credit, first self-published) comic, the generously and gorgeously oversized Late In The Years, hit toward the tail end of 2021 — and proceeded to sit on my monstrously-proportioned “to be read” pile until just a couple of weeks ago. Which is my loss, really, because this isn’t just a good comic, or a great comic — it’s a fucking tour de force, which is not a term I invoke lightly or, for that matter, particularly often. To my (admittedly dubious) credit, however, I’ve since made up for my tardiness by reading the thing six times.
All of which, I suppose, is my way of saying don’t be like me — when you get this comic, read it right away. But then, uhhm, go ahead and be like me and read it a whole lot, over and over (and over) again.
Still, that’s only the barest of bare-bones synopses, but given that this comic only clocks in at 16 pages it’s entirely fair to say that saying more would, by definition, be saying too much. What I will give away, though, is the general character of the story, which is one of intense foreboding narratively and visually, with Crane succeeding wildly at creating a hermetically-sealed and woodcut-styled world where perils both seen and less so aren’t just lurking around every corner, but literally surrounding our protagonists in all ways at all times. The near-painfully intricate detail he brings to every panel is something to behold and then some, and reflects perfectly the tonal atmosphere of seductively dark immersion that permeates all we see, read and, most crucially, feel in these pages. Which would give the book plenty of reason to recommend it if Crane stopped right there, but then he pulls a maneuver that is just downright gutsy — and absolutely makes his “make or break” moment.
Again, I’m loathe to say too much — or even to say much of anything — but insofar as a short-form (but, again, physically huge) comic can be said to have “acts,” Crane’s third rips things right open as he transitions into color artwork and delivers and accompanying narrative shift that not only complements, but magnifies, the visual one. By the time you’re done, you’ll be in an entirely different mental space than you were when you started out, and your first instinct will probably be to go right back to the beginning just to make sure you really did experience what you just experienced.
You did, of course. But you can be forgiven for needing confirmation simply because this, while echoing the work of others to a certain degree (I’m thinking not only of HPL here but of Charles Burns, Jess Johnson, Penny Moran Van Horn, and certainly Thomas Ott), is quite unlike anything you’ve experienced before. A powerful new voice in cartooning has arrived, fully-formed, at 25 years old. Where Crane goes next is anyone’s guess, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be along for the ride.
Late In The Years is available for $20 from Austin English’s Domino Books distro at http://dominobooks.org/lateintheyears.html
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