Mad Bonaz 4 Lyfe.
By Andrew Fulton.
Self-published. 2012. 28pp. $7 physical, $1 digital.
This is one of, if not the most, surreal of Fulton’s comics that I’ve read so far. And that’s saying something! Yet ironically it’s probably the most grounded in that it is telling a much more rounded story. As with a lot of Fulton’s tales, this one concerns sex, nudity and relationships. Similarly, as with a lot of Fulton’s stories, there’s a core reality of strong emotional content. It’s interesting, and powerful, how Fulton is able to communicate this emotional content before the reader even knows what’s really going on in the story. He’s able to hook us into the characters and their desires within moments of meeting them.
The difference in this particular story I think is perhaps a slightly more mundane method of story structure, at least to begin with anyway. Although the storytelling style may continue to have the surreal and ethereal aspects that Fulton usually employs, it’s mostly achieved in this opening through leaving out explanation and asking the reader to come in totally blind and with no guidance beyond what is playing out in front of them. In previous mini-comics most of the surreality came from the silliness and incongruity of the situations.
That being said, about two thirds through, this definitely takes an almost mystical bend and really sweeps the characters and reader into a dreamlike place. It’s the greatest metaphor for the sex and love that is portrayed and is probably the way we should all feel when engaged as the two main characters are here. From that point on though there is no ground for the reader to walk on until it all flutters to a quiet and lovely end.
There’s many unanswered aspects about the two leads. They’re sketched out for us extraordinarily efficiently, but maybe only superficially. Regardless of that brevity and superficiality, there’s an importance we feel about their relationship which is paid off big time by the final page, as well as having a few interesting reveals along the way. There’s also an amazing amount of emotional bearing to them both — sadness and loss, anger and longing, desperation. Again all told and understood by the reader without us really knowing any solid backstory. With such an enthralling opening, and wonderful journey, it’s kind of a shame that we’re done in 28 pages.
I still don’t know exactly what it means but… Well that’s not completely true… I think I have a very good idea what it means. The strange mystical turn in the story surely has me a little bamboozled though, but not in a bad way. It’s all the more interesting considering the basically straightforward (if a little obtuse) first half of the story. The point at which the weirdness really takes off gave me the “Wow! What’s happening now?!?” excitement that most superhero comics can only dream of giving me nowadays.
The beginning, more pedestrian scenes of the book, regardless of their use of standard panels, are no less imaginative and lovely to look at than the rest of the book. There’s splashes to establish scene, there’s space between panels used to describe pace by the squeezing or opening of their proximity, there’s a kind of iconographic language established very quickly regarding what straight-bordered panels mean versus round panels, and then the totally appropriate life that is taken on by those bubble-panels. It’s with the use of panels in the first half of the story, and then the eschewing of such standard comics rules at the weird turn, that sets this story free to be more metaphoric in its telling and more intense and heightened with its emotions. The dismissal of panel borders is subtlety integrated into the emotional journey of the story, transitioning from the standard and anchoring use of them in early pages, to setting us adrift in the stream of the story’s flow once they’re gone. So subtly done as to be almost unnoticed. Then having them reintroduced as a concrete storytelling tool. There’s also the ability of panelled borders to frame and crop, which is another tool that Fulton uses to a subtle and maybe not so subtle effect. Unsubtly he’s cropping out portions of the image for what seems like the sake of modesty, while subtly he’s saying much more by hiding those parts of the picture, actually saving the far less demure depictions for later when it’s more important and more telling, not only for us but for the two main characters themselves. A kind of complete emotional and physical honesty and baring.
Reading through this I really got the feeling that Fulton’s layout and page design in regards to storytelling has nicely and comfortably come to terms with the differences between his webcomics and his printed ones – the opportunities presented by endless canvas of webcomics and the free form options they allow him, versus the constraints of the physical page and the boundaries imposed there. He has an idiosyncratic method of mapping time and space when working with the boundless space of a webcomic ‘page’, but the reining in of this and repurposing the method with consideration not only for the shape and size of the printed page, but also the reality of a book’s page turn, culminates here in pacing, atmosphere, mood, tension and surprise that’s only available in book (or mini-comic) form. He easily fills a pages with imagery and content one spread, using multiple panels to push through the story, while comfortably following up with wide open expanses of almost empty pages and floating heads next.
Fulton’s trademark dip pen line is once again delicately employed throughout. The stylised characters also easily recognisable as Fulton’s design: round bulbous heads, small faces, rubber-hose limbs, patterned hair, as well as patterned and stylised backgrounds. It’s all beautifully done. It’s interesting how the seemingly naive and childlike feel to the drawings belie the very adult content of the story.
Production values were obviously an important consideration. The off-white paper has a nice quality and feel about it, above simply being photocopy paper, having no show-through, and the slightly heavier stock for the cover is also a nice touch. It seems to have been printed from an inkjet printer, and my assumption is that it was all assembled neatly by hand. The use of the inkjet printing has given Fulton the option to produce the whole thing in a blue line, rather than a harsh black line. Showing admirable restraint, regardless of the option afforded by the inkjet printer, Fulton hasn’t decided to simply then flood the whole book with all the colours at his disposal — it’s mostly washes of the main blue, with a judicious and conscientiously applied use of another blue and a red, again only as useful story telling tools. The size and shape once again are important to Fulton’s work as well, not simply unthinkingly settling for an A5 or A6 format. This is square in shape, about 13cm on each side.
For such a short and small read, the number of comic book storytelling devices expertly employed is amazing. I really feel this is one of Fulton’s best minis to date. It’s a lovely read, packing a wonderfully delightful emotional punch, and is well worth your time and consideration.