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A review a day: Panorama

by  in Comic News Comment
A review a day: <i>Panorama</i>

It’s time to delve into the comics I got at San Diego this year! That means weird and obscure. Possibly even weirder and obscurer than I usually get into with these posts! First up: The coolest looking comic you may ever see!

I wrote about meeting Steph Godfrey at San Diego and buying her comic, Panorama. As I wrote in my con report (which you all read, right?), this sucker consists of panels 1½ inches high and 8 inches long. The entire thing is 13 feet long (there are 20 such “pages” taped together). It’s astonishingly lo-tech, but it’s ridiculously cool. Here is a picture of Godfrey holding her creations. It’s just another example of why comics are awesome. She sold it to me for 10 measly dollars, although maybe she ripped me off because I look like a doofus. It’s certainly possible!

Panorama itself is a very cool comic, especially when we consider that it probably should be longer (that it’s not isn’t surprising, given the way it’s put together). Godfrey doesn’t get into a plot all that much, because I’m sure creating a comic like this could drive a person insane so she kept it minimalistic, but this comic isn’t about plot. Basically, Godfrey tells a semi-autobiographical story about a woman who dreams of Monument Valley in Utah and decides, against the advice of the saner people in her life, to visit there. Godfrey herself undertook such a journey (the story is set in 2002), starting in the most isolated city on the planet, Perth, and making this spiritual journey to Utah. So our narrator has her dream, becomes haunted by it, sees indications everywhere that she should make this journey, as does so. The end. What it lacks in plot Godfrey makes up for in atmosphere – this is a very meditative short story about what drives people to do seemingly crazy things and how it changes them. The narrator has no idea what she’ll find in Utah, but when she arrives there, she wonders, “How could a place so empty … fill my head with such deep thoughts?” Godfrey, coming at this vast landscape from even further West, manages to distill in just a few pages the idea of Easterners moving West toward the sun – the Europeans who crossed the Atlantic in search of something, and the people in the big cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, et. al., who decided to ditch that life and enter the vast unknown of the Great Plains and the mountains beyond them. Godfrey, despite being Australian, has created a quintessentially American dream – she desires something she can’t articulate and is willing to risk everything to find it. “Finding yourself” has become such a self-help cliché since the Seventies that it doesn’t feel terribly mythic anymore, but traveling to a destination that has some meaning for you still retains its power, and it’s impressive that Godfrey manages to get that across in just a few pages. Godfrey ends the story as it must end, and we understand that this is a pilgrimage to a holy place, even if she might not have recognized until her arrival. If you’re looking for a plot, you won’t really find much here. But Godfrey isn’t interested in plot, so why should we be?

The art is impressive not only because of the self-imposed restrictions of telling the story the way Godfrey does. It’s extremely intricate and occasionally dream-like, helping create this odd, meditative vibe that Godfrey is going for. Her faces aren’t all that great – she doesn’t draw much detail on them and so it’s difficult to get good expressions, except for an amused Navajo lady in Utah. The rest of the art, however, is very nice, as Godfrey’s delicate line work conveys the almost ethereal nature of her quest, and her exquisite drawings of the desert make the narrator’s destination seem more epic. Godfrey is spare when it suits her, too – there are a few panels with very little work in them, giving us the impression that the narrator is floating in a void where she determines reality. I imagine some of the reasons for the choices Godfrey makes come from the way she presents the comic, but the way she presents the comic also may have been dictated by the kinds of panels she wanted to create. If it’s the latter, it works very well. The length and thinness of the panels add grandeur to the narrator’s statements, and help the epiphanic final panel have a greater impact (as well as mirror an earlier panel from the narrator’s dream, linking the two). It’s a very cool achievement, and it makes Panorama feel heftier even though it’s a tiny comic.

I would imagine you can contact Godfrey and she’d be happy to send you a copy of the comic in exchange for cash money. Panorama, as well as being a nice story of one woman’s self-discovery, stands as an example of why we love comics. It presents a story in a fascinating manner and uses that presentation to help make its point. The message is deliberately entwined with the delivery system, and that strengthens both. Aren’t comics cool?

Tomorrow: Bloggers writing comics? The audacity!

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