Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Trade Waiting - Forming by Jesse Moynihan

Why are we here and where do we come from? These are two questions that have stumped philosophers, scientists, and religious sects since the human race became capable of asking such things. Religion says God created us all in seven days, Science says the Big Bang started us and millions of years of evolution refined us. Wars have started and ended because of these questions and they tend to bring the best and worst out in all of us. It’s possibly the one thing on the entire planet that absolutely everyone has an opinion on. The lack of certainty has become Jesse Moynihan’s playground, realising what other creative types have for centuries that the rich tapestry of tales and theories on how we got here can lead to some interesting stories in the modern era. How does he do? Find out after the jump.

Forming by Jesse Moynihan
Published by NoBrow Press (distributed by AdHouse Books in the United States)

Why do we see the objects or people we perceive to have created us to be deities? Why can’t they be like us, just more evolved? No, this isn’t yet another Prometheus review, which can be left to people who care about such things. This is Forming, a beautiful, epic, and very adult book by the incredibly talented Jesse Moynihan and published by the brightest light in the United Kingdom’s independent scene, NoBrow Press.

Forming is first and foremost, about a literal little green man named Mithras, who is charged by his father/leader/glowing crystal to scout Earth for mining potential. The problem is Mithras isn’t the all seeing aliens we see in regular science fiction; he has more similarities to a slacker teenager than he does to an alien set out to conquer and command. Also, the humans on Earth at this point are still essentially Neanderthals, albeit peaceful and able to live in harmony with the wild animals. Nevertheless, upon landing on Atlantis, he manages to do it and falls for a human woman with a star birthmark on her face named Gaia, (another name for Mother Earth fact fans.) Moynihan then shifts the focus to Gaia and Mithras’ children, (The Titans of Greek mythology,) as they plot to overthrow their father who through the speeding up of evolution has damaged the natural order of things. Meanwhile another alien entity named Serapis, (a god of both Egyptian and Greek cultures,) a strange hermaphrodite that wears odd bondage get up, has landed in Canaan (or Palestine,) encountered Adam and Eve, and has decided to do what Mithras has done and start a family, thus birthing Cain and Abel. On top of all this we have yet another alien who finds himself sent back to 65 million bc; the explanation of the big bang through the medium of millennia long fights, Noah switiching between meditating and engaging in extra marital affairs with Gaia, and through Mithras forcing evolution on workers and allowing them to question their own existence, the notion of striking and revolt. That is just scratching the surface of Forming, with Moynihan exploring the nooks and crannies of ancient stories to mine multi layered gold.

Jesse Moynihan is one of the brightest new talents in comics. His writing style is easy to follow and not particularly convoluted, a massive feat especially when by the end of the book there are about a dozen people who could be considered the main character. Using already recognisable characters from stories we all know is something Moynihan uses to his advantage, and his seeming faith in his readership to know these stories means he doesn’t have to worry about who and what the characters motivations are as we all know them already, or if we don’t they are only a Wikipedia search away. One of Moynihan’s main strengths though is his dialogue, which is hilarious in a way that so few are. All the characters speak as if they came out of the Jersey Shore rather than ten thousand years ago and are completely potty mouthed to boot. One such scene that had this reviewer in tears was when Noah says to Gaia ‘Your husband may be a god but our genital heat would set oceans on fire,’ like a scene out of a bad romance novel or soap opera. The whole book is truly hilarious stuff.

The art in Forming is of a similar high quality. Using a rigid nine panel grid, at first glance the line work looks deceptively simple but it is actually of a surprisingly high quality. His ability to sell the casts emotions in so few lines is fantastic, and the visual jokes just add to the fantastic humour found in the dialogue. Even with a large cast, no two characters look the same and the actual designs of not just the characters but also the environments, both natural and man made, are exquisite. When it comes to Moynihan’s art though, the real shining star is, to put it bluntly, his psychedelic colour work. Seemingly using the ‘why use any colour when you can use the loudest one’ school of thought, every page absolutely pops with vibrancy.

The name of the book can be interpreted in multiple ways. Does Forming mean the forming of Earth and civilisations as we know them today? Or does it mean the forming of relationships between the characters such as Serapis and Eve, or Noah and Gaia? Or is it more about Moynihan himself, the way that ideas can form into complete works with the use of a pen, some vibrant colours, and a vivid imagination? Any one of these arguments is valid and just adds to the multi layered approach that Moynihan takes. The one worry is that some could be put off by what their perceptions of a comic published by a boutique publisher are. That would be a shame because this book couldn’t be any further from that stereotype. Superhero fans will love the planet forming punch ups between Lucifer and Michael, fans of Kate Beaton and/or Joe Daly will enjoy the comedy as Moynihan’s sense of humour sounds and looks like an amazing mash up of the two, and the ‘independent only’ set will enjoy the big questions that the book poses and the evident labour of love that the book is. Having said that, there is no reason why the whole thing just can’t be enjoyed for what it is; a thought provoking, beautiful looking, and just downright funny piece of fiction. This truly is a book for everyone.

NoBrow have gone above and beyond with the presentation of Forming. Large, slightly bigger than a French graphic ‘album,’ Forming stands out on the bookshelf, begging to be read. The matt finish to the cover strangely adds to the vivid energy of the colours and there is also a lovely hot pink fabric spine and thankfully, no dust jacket; something that should have gone the way of the jheri-curl or the Betamax player and been put to bed years ago. On top of that, the paper stock is thick and weighty, once again proving that the smaller publishers are definitely in the business of making sure the whole product matters, not just the content. Forming marks another tick in the win column for NoBrow and alongside Mikkel Sommer’s Obsolete and the fantastic body of work by the likes of BlexBolex and Jack Teagle, NoBrow Press is the publisher to look out for going forward.

Verdict – Buy It Now!

In answer to the question posed earlier of where do we come from, it looks as though the deities and malevolent forces that we either worship or are in fear of are just as flawed, funny, and at times, idiotic as ourselves. Jesse Moynihan doesn’t need comics, he is a storyboard artist for cultural phenomenon/cartoon/transcendent experience Adventure Time and this reviewer can only assume makes a decent living out of it. Comics, on the other hand, need Moynihan and more like him to push the medium into new, exciting territories so it can get the respect it deserves from the masses at large. Funny, sharp, at times violent, and a thousand times more intelligent than it first appears; Forming could easily be recommended to fans of all types of books from all different genres. In a world as divisive as comics, this is no mean feat and something that deserves all the kind words being thrown at it. 

There is no doubt that this book should be purchased but if you don’t like beautifully presented books you can read Forming on Jesse Moynihan’s website, imaginatively titled www.jessemoynihan.com for free.

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