REVIEW [Comics]: Flinch

20 07 2009

"A collection of stories to inspire wonder...and question the darkness within us all."

"A collection of stories to inspire wonder...and question the darkness within us all."

Sometimes I’ll purchase a graphic novel for its cover (stark, expressive, surprising), and other times I’ll purchase one for its price. In this case I did neither.

Instead, I picked Flinch from the shelf because a publisher with whom I am unfamiliar produced it: Gestalt Comics, based near Perth, Australia. Indeed, I’m wholly ignorant of the Australian comics scene, such as it is.

After following a trail of links from their website, I discovered an online newspaper (The Australian, natch) that featured Gestalt in “The Arts.” Apparently, Australia has been relatively slow to realize the comic book as art form:

“Unlike Europe, the US and Japan, which have an adult market for graphic novels going back to World War II, Australian book sellers and most of the reading public, until recently, have seen comics as ephemeral and disposable, juvenilia that you’re supposed to grow out of. Yet for generations who grew up with a visual education learned through TV, films and animated computer games, the graphic novel makes perfect sense.”

Most of the creators featured within Flinch (an anthology, I forgot to mention) are Australian, but don’t hold that against them. The work is beautiful, if not beautifully arranged, because there seems little thematic confluence; instead, each piece is placed to satisfy editorial juxtaposition.

But I’m wrong in this assumption. A second reading revealed thematic tissues that connected the works; tissues such as regret, salvation, desire, frailty. Perhaps this was the intention of Flinch, to force a (re)consideration of our reflexive literary interpretations, as such, and take a protracted, patient look at what we read (and do).

Of course, each story within Flinch is simply a playful interpretation of that word, which, by the way, means:

–verb (used without object) 1. to draw back or shrink, as from what is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant; 2. to shrink under pain, wince

The stand-out story among them, easily, is the lead, “Withheld.” It accounts for nearly forty pages of narrative (whereas most others run between eight and twelve). Written and illustrated by Bobby.N, it concerns the final day of a thirty years-long incarceration for Jim, an elderly man without regrets, he says, except for “leaving [his] friends behind [in prison].”

Jim’s personal narration is revealed to be a letter that he leaves behind (to be found by a guard); a letter that, when paired with the events of the conclusion, feels (almost) bittersweet.

“Daemon Street Ghost-Trap,” by Terry Dowling (acclaimed Australian fantasist) and Skye Ogden, is another story worth mentioning. The piece borders on the (overly) talkative (imagine Ghostbusters as filtered through Nova), but its final plot “twist” makes up for this.

Jack Obern (a university student “in [his] honours year”) and Jarvis Henry (Jack’s mentor professor) explore the rumors of a haunting at the Crane family mansion on Daemon (get it?) Street. Soon (but not quickly enough for my taste), they realize that all is not at it seems (or should seem), as the last remaining occupant of the mansion reveals. A charming ghost story: one sufficient to satisfy the interpretation of “flinch.”

“The Ride Home,” by Anton McKay was a great commentary on our current voyeuristic culture.

“96,000m” featured artwork by Tom Bonin that reminded me of J. M. DeMatteis’ effort on Justice League International from the early 1990s.

“Twain” was the most frightening of the bunch, as it plunged the depths of fraternal love during the first millenium.

Flinch, although uneven in its narrative product, succeeded in introducing me to the world of Australian comics (and their creators), a world I’ll be sure to revisit.

Flinch is available from Gestalt Publishing ($11.95).