by Renee French
There has always been something in Renee French's work that has discomforted me on a very profound level. I can't point to any specific thing in particular, it's more a confluence of a number of different disturbing factors at work. There are lots of creepy / strange artists in comics whose work doesn't bother me in the least. But something about French's work just disturbs me. Perhaps it's the level of hyper-detailed, gently pencil-etched reality married to the strange, unpalatable subject matter - like a Edward Gorey as interpreted by Barry Windsor-Smith. Unclean.
To this day I've got a copy of The Soap Lady on my shelf that remains only partially read, because I can't quite seem to muster up the courage to make it through the whole thing. It's not scary as such, or particularly horrifying or gory or anything like that - I can take all of those things. There's something particularly effective about French's work because it seems so nice and wholesome on the surface. And then you get down to the faceless monsters and weird soap creatures. The dichotomy is killer.
The devil is in the details. Micrographica is a conscious attempt on French's part to move past the world of detail-oriented hyper-real imagery and into the realm of a more "pure" cartooning - focusing simply on figures and forms interacting on the plane of the paper. To that end, every drawing in this book (except for a few studies at the end) were originally illustrated at the mind-boggling size of one-centimeter square. Given that, the amount of detail she does manage to fit into these panels is mind boggling - if she uses pen-nibs this small for everything she does, she will probably go blind before long. (Think of poor Bernie Wrightson and his quixotic Frankenstein portfolio!)
The story is simple, about as simple as you'd expect given the format limitations: a handful of tiny hairless rats are wandering around a field looking for food. They find some shit, a sandwich, a dead guy, and more shit, roughly in that order. They talk trash with each other as they do so.
I liked the book even if it was a quick read. I think something like this is far more interesting as a formal experiment than as a work in and of itself - although I was amused by the rats' antics, the whimsical plot points seemed more perfunctory than finely wrought. The narrative was initially posted online as it was completed, but I have no idea how it could possibly have read in serialized form. This is fun stuff, but slight.
The most interesting aspect of Micrographica will be whether or not this consciously-limiting experiment will have any effect on French's future work. I think a detail-oriented storyteller like herself can only benefit from flexing her muscles in such a fashion. Which is not to say she should abandon her customary style anytime soon. The fact is that I find her work absolutely repulsive, but I can't hold that against her because it is supposed to be repulsive. I hope she continues finding new ways to be repulsive for a long time to come, and maybe her and Al Columbia can have a big Kaiju battle in downtown Portland over who gets to be the creepiest motherfucker of them all.