Thursday, October 25, 2012

LP: A Sequential Single

F has it all . Fame, Fortune , Women, and enough chemicals to make his head spin, but when he picks up a strange record his life changes forever.
Pulled into a world of mysticism, shamanic electric guitar feedback and mega yakuza , F gets way more than he bargained for.
One record can change the world.
(Full disclosure: I'm currently collaborating with Ramon on a comic project.)

LP is a one shot comic written by Curt Pires and illustrated by Ramon Villalobos.  The plot involves a rock star who possesses an LP record with mystical properties, only to have it stolen by "mega yakuza" on one hand, and sought after by gangsters in bunny masks on the other.  However, that's not what the comic is about.  LP is about music. It's about that strange alchemical power that music has over ourselves and the world as a whole.  LP is an explosion of psychedelia, it's a weird, genre defying mixture of magic, gangsters, and rock music, and it will remind you that a record can possess your soul and change the world.

Pires begins LP in media res at the climactic point of carnage.  The reader knows from the captions that at some point, something we can assume is the titular LP was taken from the protagonist, and that, "There was only one way this was ever going to end".  This line can be read as a bit of metatextual commentary, given that the comic has begun with a snippet of the ending; there is literally only one way for this story to end because we are actually looking at that ending on the first page.  LP begins by dropping the reader into the middle of a massacre, and we are immediately hit with a shot of gory destruction and ultra-violence that leaves us wondering what exactly has happened here.  

The next page transitions from the previous scene of bloody havoc to a tight shot of the rock star protagonist "F" backstage before a show.  The first three wide panels of this page are wordless, and Pires lets the images breath a little after the dense first page of bloodshed.  They pull out slowly from F, and this gradual zoom out shows us his ennui and general numbness to his surroundings.  The transition from a red tinted vision of death to a very tight shot on F's green tinted mouth is jarring.  The juxtaposition would give the reader the sense that the preceding scene was a fantasy, if only the captions hadn't explicitly stated that it is in fact the end.  One of the major strength's of LP is Villalobos' coloring;  the neon glow of the colors is bold and distinctive, and more importantly, they serve to enhance the narrative flow of the comic.  

F is called to the stage, and the narrative momentum begins to build.  We learn from his internal monologue that F doesn't just look dissatisfied, he has begun to hate his fans and "The managers, the agents, the reporters. This entire generation of MTV fed future psychiatric patients".  F laments a generation of "self-described artists" only to realize that he is contributing to this culture and is just as culpable as anyone else.  Villalobos' last panel here depicts F on stage with his band in front of a crowd of adoring fans, and he uses a very interesting panel shape.  This hexagonal panel uses the negative space of the gutters to focus your eye from the crowded foreground to the stage where all the attention of the audience is concentrated.  It's like the shape of the panel is funneling your vision towards the stage, and you feel like you are actually in the audience.

I'm sure you've figured this out already based on the images you've seen, but I should mention that Villalobos is really good at drawing these crowd scenes.  The faces in the crowds are distinctive and not repetitive, the hair and clothing varies, and you get that appropriate feeling of density and chaos that a huge group of people provides.  While I'm sure they were a chore to draw, the crowds feel alive.  We learn here that F is a drug addict who is finding it hard to really enjoy "anything but his chemicals", and we see a little kid stealing a record out of a guitar case.  

Everything goes to hell from here.  

F stop by his local record store slash drug dealer to pick up a fix, and he's beat up by a gang of thugs because of his surmounting debt to them.  The mob wants his mystical record that may or may not be inhabited by an entity with Brian Wilson's face in return for his drug debts.  Of course, the LP was stolen by the mega yakuza, and F must get it back from them.  However, as I said earlier, the plot isn't important.  It's the execution of LP that makes it such an interesting and idiosyncratic comic.  

Pires peppers the narrative with lines from classic songs ("shiver and say the words of every lie you've ever heard") in a way that reflects on the themes and plot of the comic, sometimes in the gutters, and sometimes in the panels themselves as text floating outside of caption boxes.  It's like the playlist for the comic is enmeshed into and in between the panels.  It's a technique that accentuates the sequential current of the comic which Pires structures like a fast paced, rhythmic rock song that cruises along to a crashing crescendo of psychedelic insanity.

Villalobos' art in LP is, in a word, transcendent.  A cursory glance reveals a striking similarity to Quitely's work, which Villalobos admits to attempting to emulate, but there's something more there.  There's a frantic reality to his depictions of groups of people as if they are living, breathing creatures rather than pieces to move around on a page.  

The above page shows a scene in which F locates his stolen LP by meditating, and Villalobos' construction of the page is inspired.  The image of F's head divided, like an anatomy book cross section, revealing his brain and the skeletal structure of his hand is amazing.  The red balls of psychic energy orbiting his head and flowing through him, the apparition of the LP on his forehead like an opening third eye, the dotted line shooting from his mind and into the billowing panel below, it's all an extraordinary illustration and panel lay out.  There are several pages in LP that reach this level of awesomeness, and I could have spent a few more paragraphs dissecting them, but it would be better if you just read the comic yourself and I spare you a few hundred words of my pretension.

LP is a comic that, "grabs you and it doesn't let you go" in the way that a good song can.  It's about that odd alchemical energy of music.  The magic of the titular LP is a metaphor for the magic of music itself, and the way that it can "shake you to your core", possess you, and transform your consciousness.  It's a comic that is not easily categorized according to genres and is aggressively its own thing, a sequential single release.  Pires and Villalobos have created a comic that is unique and interesting, and you should check it out.

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