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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Obsession -- William Rees writes and Jeff Clemens draws this new graphic novel published by Heavy Proton. Neither the writing nor the art rises to the level of professional, and the story is lurid and wildly scattered, but there's an unusual sense of commitment and ambition to the telling of the story that I don't see much of, and that alone propelled me through the book.

The story is about a 16-year-old girl, Clarissa Case, who is trapped at home, having to help her handicapped mother, who seems to have been driven mad with pain. The girl encounters what the script seems to want us to believe is a handsome older man, but who kind of looks like an ape, or a hobo. She falls immediately for this "George Simmons," but perhaps the meeting was not as coincidental as Clarissa might think, dot dot dot.

The overall plot is outrageous but not entirely unbelievable for the sort of gothic melodrama Obsession aspires to be. Rees's dialogue is frequently absurd ("Well, now, you sure are a ripe tomato." "Sigh. Well, I guess I can trust you not to kill me!"). It falls apart in the details, though, such as the ridiculous diary entries and fantasies Clarissa entertains throughout the story.

Note to all comic book creators, from the very worst amateur to Alan Moore and Grant Morrison: I don't ever, ever read huge chunks of text purporting to be the character's diary or some article relevant to the story when they are plopped onto the comics page as part of the narrative. And I suspect I am not alone. Sorry, I'm reading comics right now, I seem to say to myself as my eyes glaze over and I move on to the next panel. And that happened a lot in Obsession. I couldn't be bothered to read Clarissa's diary entries or the segments where she imagines herself a nurse and George a handsome doctor. And I don't feel bad about that, because if these narrative elements were compelling and well-done, I'd have had no choice but to be compelled to read them and realize how well-done they were.

I mention that Obsession is lurid, and it is, in both the script and the art, the latter of which seems to be a perfect melding of Doomsday+1 era John Byrne and an attempt at aping Graham Ingels, EC's premier gothic horror specialist. Clemens, who the text at the back informs me attended the Joe Kubert School, clearly has a little potential but a long way to go before he gets there. And I'm not sure, but it seems to me that the full-page spread of the 40ish and quite grotesque George Simmons having sex with 16-year-old Clarissa might be illegal in some places, what with all the concern about the violation of young, fictional girls. It's just kind of an icky scene.

There's not much to like about Obsession; at 93 pages, it's over ten times longer than the EC horror comics I kind of think it wants to evoke. If it had been seven pages, written by Bill Gaines and drawn by Jack Kamen or the aforementioned Graham Ingels, it might still not be a very good story, but it would at least have caught the eye of Dr. Wertham. The only good thing I can say about it is that it possesses obvious ambition. It's clear its creators want to make comics and have the energy and desire to do so. I just wish they'd created a comic book that I could recommend.



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