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Written by Sam Kieth
Drawn by Kieth, Alex Pardee and Chris Wisnia
Published by Oni Press; $14.95 USD

Ojo It seems fitting that Kieth would release the first of what is a planned line of comic book mini-series under the banner of Oni Press. Oni has always catered to the reader who wants a comic book reading experiencing that isn’t quite DC or Marvel mainstream but not the form-challenging work one would find from a company like Drawn & Quarterly. Kieth himself is an artist who falls in between those lines. His The Maxx series was the first comic of real artistic merit to come from Image comics during the early ‘90s. Kieth had found some success as a penciller for titles like Sandman and Marvel Comics Presents but it would be with this creator-owned series that Kieth would showcase to an audience his unique way of mixing realism and fantasy in comics as well as his knack for writing stand out female characters. Ojo is a fine addition to Kieth’s oeuvre and also a wonderfully weird story in itself.

The story is not uncovering new territory for Kieth (it’s hard not to be reminded of the dead rabbit in the early issues of The Maxx) but that soon becomes unimportant when you find out how Kieth really nails this story. Annie is a young girl, living with her grandfather and sister while trying to get over the fact that her mother recently passed away. Death and how we living people deal with it is the strong theme of the book, something realized when Annie lets us know, early on in the book, that she is responsible for the death of three animals. Two of them were pets that she tried ever so hard to take care of but instead rather clumsily contributed to their demise. The third is a bug she stepped whose death she deiced needed as much a memorable service as the two pets, so now we have three rocks in Grandpa’s garden with the names of three animals on them. Annie is not even a pre-teen and she’s got her own funeral service going. Her chance to be a truly responsible pet owner comes by when she finds this weird little squid-like monster who she names Ojo. Annie finds out that to feed Baby Ojo she has to feed Mother Ojo, who lives in the big sewer pipe not far from the house. From there we get a creepy and interesting story of Annie thinking that the Mother Ojo is a reincarnation of her mother, Annie’s rather exceptional way of trying to get through losing her mother.

The most striking part of the book is how Kieth, Pardee and Wisnia jump around in art styles while telling this story. Annie’s grandfather is an artist and Annie partakes in a few child-like drawings herself. A lot of the art in the book in fact looks like Annie drew it herself, which compliments the first-person narration. In just a few pages the art can go from a bold-lined animated style to a sketchy horror style to something resembling Charles Schultz’ work. It’s amazing that Kieth has the storytelling chops so that the reader never gets lost reading this book. Instead, the book strikes a consistent tone throughout, a brilliantly off-kilter one that stays with the readers after they put the book down, because of the employ of so many different looks. There are some thoroughly impressive pages like when Annie’s three dead friends sing a song to her from beyond the grave during bath time in Chapter 2. The transformation of spiraling bath water into this psychedelic scenery makes the artwork almost seem too big for the page.

All these artistic ideas Kieth and his collaborators employ only make the story of Annie’s feelings about death stronger. The look of the book never stays on one style too long matches how Annie is growing up, getting al lthese different idea in her head about life and death. She is seeing lives end around her all the time while she is just starting life. Kieth captures the real horror of being a child so starkly realistically. The tormenting older sister isn’t some type of comic relief but instead feels like a real menace that can cause some major damage on an already wounded psyche. The imagination Annie has about her pet Ojo is glued right next to the desperation her and her family’s life have. Reading the book you can get the feeling that there really isn’t any world outside of Annie’s mind, which is probably why she chooses to live in it so much. That imagination of Annie’s feels cracked so much because of the desperation and pain she’s been through. The only quibble I have is that I wish there wasn’t a part where one character actually outright tells another that all these delusions Annie has about the Ojos is her way of dealing with her Mom’s death (and her feelings of guilt about it). It’s only a page but still, nobody needs a page where the book says “alight, here’s what we’re trying to get at.” I mean if more books do that, what are we intellectually posing critics, who like to dwell on books’ themes as if we actually know something, meant to do?

Ojo looks and feels like no other comic book out right now (with the exception of the other Sam Kieth comics kept in print, and even then this is a step forward from those works). It’s hard to tell where the look of the book begins and the story behind it ends. Shouldn’t that be how a good comic book always is, though?

-- Ian Brill

Send review copies to:
Ian Brill
1608 Ocean Dr.
Oxnard, CA 93035

The ADD Blog by Alan David Doane. Trouble with Comics Reviews of comics and graphic novels. Commentary about the artform and industry of comics. Get back to the main page.

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