In “Miniature Jesus” #1, Ted McKeever, best known for “Metropol” and artwork for many of DC’s Vertigo titles, begins a tale about temptation and redemption, saints and demons in a semi-rural, postindustrial landscape.
McKeever’s linework for “Miniature Jesus” has a variety of closely spaced shading techniques, and his black and white artwork is printed on matte paper, resulting in a grungy, charcoal-like look to his line. He also has an odd mix of detail, including some panels with minimal or flat backgrounds and others with highly rendered plants or building details. Overall, the aesthetic is scratchy and messy-looking, and his page and panel composition also feel heavy and inelegant, while still showing off his obvious draughtmanship skills. Some of this detail feels excessive or uneven, though. While separate panels have visual interest by themselves, there’s little sense of kinetic movement or transitional flow across the page as a whole, and thus McKeever’s visual storytelling feels heavy and static. However, given his unusual narrative and approach, this reading experience might be intentional.
The tone of McKeever’s gritty and quasi-theological narrative is a match for the artwork. Chomsky, an alcoholic, has been a shut-in for 26 days. He starts hearing a voice addressing him from a putrefied cat corpse as he thinks aloud in lumbering, swear-laden dialogue. His possible auditory hallucination is accompanied by a visual hallucination, as the rotting body transforms itself into Bast, the Egyptian god, who jabbers and jeers at Chomsky in colloquial insults. This surreal encounter is followed by Chomsky’s equal unpleasant and almost absurdist exchange with a shopkeeper. As an opener, these scenes may spark interest for their disjointed strangeness, but there is no narrative hook apart from McKeever’s concepts and the mystery of how much of this is “real.” Chomsky and the shopkeeper are more symbols than humans at this point, and their demeanor and speech are likewise flat and unwelcoming once the swearwords are removed.
From there, McKeever’s setting shifts to a church, in which another bizarre scene that results in the introduction of the eponymous Miniature Jesus. McKeever’s stage management here is skillful but also self-indulgent and protracted, with multiple macro-lens-like close-ups and changes of camera angle before settling on the “shocker” moment.
Even McKeever’s lettering is also deliberately unpolished and indie-looking in its non-uniform hand-lettering. Again, this may be an intentional part of McKeever’s vision, but it’s also yet another barrier to entry for a difficult narrative, in which both the narrator and the reader may have some trouble with understanding what is going on. The only spot of normality is the child who points the preacher and reader’s attention towards the crucifix.
“Miniature Jesus” #1 feels disorienting and sometimes ugly, but that’s probably McKeever’s intent. In its favor, it’s also memorable and hypnotic in its strangeness. Whether or not one likes it is going to depend heavily on personal taste. It’s best summed up as the comics analogue to a garage-made industrial surrealist art film — conceptually driven and unpolished, but also something striving to be unique, provoking and surprising. Except for Image being the publisher, all of “Miniature Jesus” #1 is McKeever’s work, and it may yet succeed on its own terms and find its audience. However, as a debut issue, “Miniature Jesus” #1 is a mixed bag, because McKeever’s ambitions and emerging story do not — yet — justify all the heavy themes and deliberate opacity.