Ben Kooyman reviews Andrez Bergen’s noir anthology…
Black/White is an anthology of short comics authored by the prolific Andrez Bergen and illustrated by a bevy of international artists. The stories, ranging from one to seven pages long, are all set – broadly speaking – within the realm of noir, and the titular colour scheme provides a fitting aesthetic for these brisk twisted tales.
The opening story, ‘Zig Zag’, illustrated by Drezz Rodriguez, shows a man cleaning and prepping a gun for use and resembles an illustrated short story, with text in the left column of each page and images inhabiting the right. Whilst stylistically distinct from the more standard sequential art storytelling throughout the rest of the anthology, it sets the tone for subsequent stories and foreshadows a number of motifs that will reverberate throughout, notably noir dialogue with Australian colloquialisms (‘bugger’, ‘bloody’) and the presence of a gun of some sort. ‘Get Busy’, illustrated by Marcos Vergara, depicts a weary bartender laconically observing suspicious goings-on in his establishment’s bathroom, whilst ‘Linoleum Actress’, illustrated by Michael Grills, unfolds from the point of view of a paralysed man watching the femme fatale who incapacitated him. ‘The Writing on the Wall’, illustrated by Nathan St John in a style evocative of Banksy, depicts an altercation in an alleyway, whilst ‘Come Out Swinging’, a one-page story illustrated by Andrew Chiu, presents the rescue of an overly critical damsel in distress. ‘Waiting for Sod All’, both written and illustrated by Bergen, uses photos arranged into sequential panels to riff on Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, chronicling a woman driven to vexation waiting for an event to occur.
Bergen’s a fan of Raymond Chandler and Frank Miller, and those influences shine through strongly in Black/White. Miller’s influence in particular is hard to miss for readers familiar with Sin City, particularly in ‘Linoleum Actress’ with its femme fatale antagonist and ‘Zig Zag’ with its fetishizing (borderline sexualizing) of weapons. The presence of these influences and other noir tropes throughout speak to Bergen as a student of the genre, as does the presence of a flash of The Maltese Falcon in ‘Waiting for Sod All’. In this respect, the black and white aesthetic is appropriate to the genre and is utilised effectively by the assembled artists.
However, much of the pleasure of this anthology derives from the way it undercuts and gently subverts the seriousness of its noir trappings through humour, especially comedy of anachronism: the aforementioned Australian colloquialisms, the inclusion of unusual details such as the femme fatale making toast for herself, and the playful confusion of time and place (e.g. a geisha in traditional wardrobe walks into a bar where cricket plays on the television). The stories also err towards ambiguity: they are predominantly fragments of larger stories, starting in media res. They are also either exercises in slow reveal – for example, ‘Waiting for Sod All’ begins by suggesting its lead character’s malaise comes from the erosion of her marriage into dullness and artifice, but gradually reveals that something more sinister lurks behind it – or conclude on ambiguous notes with unclear resolutions. Where the art is black and white, story, themes and characterisation are deliberately grey, leaving the reader to fill the gaps themselves regarding what motivates the desperate, beaten-down protagonists to the actions they commit. However, this is not remotely unsatisfying, as all the entries click as brisk, effective blasts of decontextualized storytelling. Moreover, within this thematic framework the black and white artwork fulfils a symbolic function, obscuring answers behind its rich blacks in much the same way noir has always hinted at the sinister underbelly and unknown menace underlying polite society. Black/White, thankfully for us, is anything but polite.
 On a side note, Bergen also cites the Miller-authored Daredevil 181 as his favourite comic book, and I noticed similarities, both in the visual storytelling and the central presence of a gun to the story, between ‘Zig Zag’ and another Miller-authored issue that followed shortly after, Daredevil 184, in which Daredevil plays Russian Roulette with a captivate, bed-bound Bullseye. These similarities may be conscious, unconscious, entirely coincidental, or simply over-interpretation on my part.
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