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The Thirteenth Floor
By Roger Langridge
Available at Modern Tales Longplay

Roger Langridge's gorgeously meticulous cartooning is put to great service in this online graphic novel. The strange saga of an office staff whose supervisor left for lunch decades ago and left them all hanging, this is one of the best applications of comics to the Internet that I've seen.

You might be daunted by the concept of reading dozens of pages of story on your computer monitor, but thankfully the formatting is such that you can either read it on the screen or print it out, which is what I did. The mystery of the vanished Mister Lucan is essentially a McGuffin upon which Langridge hangs the hilarous neuroses and strange tics of the three people who make up the staff of Vagabond Twilights, Ltd. The office setting and the weirdos that inhabit it reminded me of a movie that I saw recently that exercises similar themes, Bartleby. If you've seen that odd little film (Crispin Glover's in it, that's all you need to know), you'll have some idea of the desperation and oddness that informs The Thirteenth Floor.

I was most interested in Mister Thursday, an amnesiac who has tried to learn who he is for the decades that Mister Lucan has been missing. The two events may even be related, and Thursday is convinced that the secrets to his past life are contained within the impenetrable filing cabinet in Lucan's office. The sequence in which Thursday tries top break into the cabinet with a hammer is a showcase for Langridge's sublime linework, which recalls well the style of Jim Woodring in its smoothness and use of crosshatching to indicate subtle levels of texture. It's also funny as hell, it should be noted.

There's a manic tone at work here that would not have been out of place in Harvey Kurtzman's Mad, and there's little doubt that if this were the early '50s, Langridge would fit right in to that legendary stable of the unstable. There's as much Rod Serling at work here as there is Kurtzman and Co., with an uncomfortable air of mystery and strangeness underlying the bizarre goings-on. The wide range of emotions and situations is accentuated by Langridge's delightfully inventive lettering, which is gratifyingly clear. Usually lettering is the weak spot in online comics, but Langridge very obviously knows what he is doing, and he uses some terrific effects throughout.

Being a comics reader of a certain age, I have an overriding preference for printed comics, especially well-produced and designed ones like those from Drawn and Quarterly and Fantagraphics. It's a compliment to The Thirteenth Floor that I enjoyed it just as much as comparable print comics, and I mean no insult at all to Langridge or Modern Tales when I say I would love to own a hardcopy edition of this graphic novel. Give it a read, you'll be delighted you did. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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