I hesitate to examine Moose under the Oily Comics microscope even though I clearly love Oily Comics. Charles Forsman and Co. are pushing a line of funny books well-worth supporting, and their efforts as a publisher should be looked to and applauded; that’s pretty clear (though, if you are unaware of Oily Comics, you should read this and get on the ball, buster). I just wish to see Moose, a mini-comic, as a work rather than another branch of a booming micro-publisher. All 14 installments are finalized, and they shape a complete piece open to observation from all angles. It’s a work, and I wish to separate and partition it as so. Moose by Max de Radigues is quite good, maybe even overlooked, and it deserves its own room to stand instead of idling by on a roster sheet.
About a young boy named Joe, Moose offers a simple enough bullying narrative yet twists it into a tale of power and fear complete with visual symbolism and beautiful cartooning. It’s tonally ambitious with an adorably dark charm and an ending unlike anything I’ve read in quite a while (David Lapham fans, pay attention). Each issue varies in page count, ranging from 8 to 13 pages, but Radigues, like Forsman, knows how to efficiently pace his story and offer something complete in each chapter. There’s also a very nice flow to the plot. Radigues finds those moments to ride out the distortion and wane in the ambiance before landing the next beat, and those moments tend to further establish tone and flesh out the character while letting a reader stew.
Besides the bigger pictures and “oh shit” moments, what’s commendable here is the clarity. The first issue acts as such a scene setter for both interests of character and theme but also Radigues ability to illustrate. It’s visually compelling to watch our protagonist race through a forest, peering over his shoulder at the object he’s fleeing, and the cartooning at work really executes the speed, emotion and chill the scene needs. His work is sharp and acute, and the way he depicts Joe’s exhaustion and fear by way of simple identifiers like tears, sweat and breathe are affective and create that extra buzz a chase scene of this ilk requires. The line art also carries a certain degree of shakiness to it and lands the idea of the character being cold and shivering uncontrollably.
That’s about as visceral as Radigues’s artwork gets, but all throughout Moose he shows concern to capture and present the right shots to glue the plot together. As a cartoonist, he’s also very comfortable with allowing the character to interact with his or her environment and live it. A possible complaint is that mid-way though the series Radigues locks the reader onto a certain type of event – Joe being bullied, exploring the woods – and repeats it, but the move feels more like an effort to reinforce Joe’s position, slowly heighten the conflict and simply use the setting. It shows some confidence on the artist’s part, and the drawings are nice enough that you really don’t mind.
Plot wise, it may begin somewhat plain and two dimensional, but halfway through Radigues starts to play with your head and twist Moose from survivors tale to execution drama, making room for a role reversal. Though I may make it sound more brutal than it really is, and I’ll avoid spoilers for once, by the end it’s clear there’s something innocently sinister about Joe. He finds himself in a position of power, and rather than acting responsibly and being the better man we witness him eerily get his revenge.
The ending delivers because of that, and I really dig how Radigues just stops at a point, intentionally leaving you with questions to broaden the story’s impact ever so more. It’s somewhat David Lapham-esque, in a way (maybe mixed in with Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park), yet Moose throughout appears a little more cute and cuddly, strengthening the impact of the series’ final chords as it transitions rapidly between charming and disturbing.
They’ll be more to say of it as time evaporates, but for now Max de Radigues’s Moose is simply recommendable. A well-crafted, chilling read that goes somewhere you wouldn’t expect it. Though, by writing that, I may have just ruined the element of surprise. Oh well. Read it anyway. And don’t wait for some more-than-unlikely trade paperback. Each issue’s a buck a piece and rather easily purchased. Don’t be lame.