Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Magic of Cathy Malkasian's Percy Gloom

Wake Up, Percy Gloom! by Cathy Malkasian
Fantagraphics, 2013
Cathy Malkasian is an extraordinary cartoonist whose debut graphic novel from 2007 was the unheralded masterpiece Percy Gloom. Part cutting satire, part fairy tale, part nightmare (and back again), in Percy Gloom Malkasian crafted a disarmingly simple tale about the overwhelming forces of loss, love, government & society, and religion. The titular Gloom, a short, balding little man, overly cautious about everything and doted upon by his mother; in a state of constant suffocation by the weight of the world, travels abroad for the first time, coming to the headquarters of his dream job located in an odd little city hiding some deep, dark secrets. At first, the story seems to be about breaking free of the constraints of life and taking chances, but very quickly takes many weird and wonderful turns and becomes something so much more - a story of profound heartbreak and loss, of redemption, and of freedom not just from the overwhelming weight of life but from the poison of corruption and power wielded by both the zealots and the broken. Percy Gloom was (still is) a book to be experienced, a work of surprising beauty and grace that has an emotional punch, packed with surprises that leap off the page and stick with you. Malkasian's unique art, charcoal-like cartoon illustrations both simple and versatile, solidified Percy Gloom as a breathless, stunning piece of art, and one of the best comics of 2007.

Her follow-up from 2010, Temperance, was no less assured, another richly detailed fantasy parable about belief and violence and the power of story. Her accomplishments as a fiercely unique visual storyteller are even more pronounced Temperance, weaving a narrative and visual spell rooted in the contrasting beauty of nature and expansive architecture of a stunning and wholly original citystate. It was with great anticipation that I awaited her new graphic novel, a sequel to Percy Gloom; I was not disappointed.

All of the strengths of her previous works are immediately evident in her new graphic novel (out this month from Fantagraphics) Wake Up, Percy Gloom!. Taking up where the last volume left off, Wake Up, Percy Gloom! follows Percy and his love Margaret as they embark on a quixotic journey in search of her supposed twin. Fate intervenes and Percy falls into one of his Rumpelstiltskinian sleeps - which can last many years (Percy, like his mother, is immortal). When he awakes, a series of misunderstandings leads him to believe that he's been out for 200 years, when really he's been asleep for just one year. As Percy meanders through a world he thinks is radically different than the one he left, he encounters a walled city and a government bureaucrat as shut off from reality as the city he worked for.. All the while, Percy's mother is coming to terms with a religion she accidentally created from a joke book she wrote centuries earlier. Their different stories intertwine and come together in entrancing moments of beauty and magic, vividly realized in Malkasian's extraordinary shaded pencil art.

Malkasian expands on the themes she wove in the first volume, using her remarkable fantasy world to comment on isolation, religion, government and the pain and terror and joy of love both unrequited and achieved. Wake Up, Percy Gloom! is another astonishing work from Malkasian, a beautiful and uplifting graphic novel filled with magic and loss and joy. Malkasian, a veteran animator and now highly accomplished cartoonist, once more delivers a work of startling power cementing herself as one of the most distinct and important voices in comics. For those unfamiliar with Malkasian, Wake Up, Percy Gloom! is a perfect introduction to her work - even the better if you go back and get her first two graphic novels, making a trilogy of astonishing works that weave an utterly captivating spell.

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