I’ll miss “Demo.” Again.
I was a big fan of the first 12-issue series and looked forward to the six-issue Vertigo second volume ever since it was rumored/announced, and it didn’t disappoint. This volume has been more minimalist in its writing, allowing Becky Cloonan’s gorgeous art to take center stage. Each issue has been like a short film or prose poem, a work of allusions and demands that the reader meet the work partway. The final issue of this run, “Sad and Beautiful World” is no different, with Wood and Cloonan returning one of the series’ most enduring ideas: a relationship between a man and woman gone wrong.
To be fair, Kris and Jack’s relationship started off wrong. Something about their biological makeups makes them both require the presence of the other despite repelling/repulsing one another in the same mysterious way. Jack compares it to magnets, how the poles can attract or repel depending on which are facing. A couple that require one another to live, but can’t stand to be around one another is such a perfect metaphor for love and relationships as they grow and become their own entity over time. How passion and love can turn to complacency, routine, and resentment. But, what makes this comic truly great is that it isn’t an indictment of these things, it’s an exploration of them, showing how things evolve and change, and how wounds can be healed over time.
Wood has both characters narrate the issue and that rounds things out well. While it’s obvious which character is which, that doesn’t matter. As he did with “Breaking Up” in the first volume, he balances things out. Both characters are damaged, both characters are hurt by and inflict pain on the other, and both characters make the effort to mend the damages. He works hard to not judge either too harshly or make one seem better or worse than the other. Surprisingly, that balance only adds to the dramatic tension of the narrative since either character can cause the next round of problems. It feels more real that way.
The second volume of “Demo” has been a Becky Cloonan showcase with Wood usually stepping back and, while Wood’s writing isn’t as minimalist here, Cloonan still impresses greatly and almost steals the issue from him. She lends a great deal of humanity and depth to both of the characters over the course of the issue, showing not just their pain, but their love, their boredom, their general sense of normalcy as they try to go about their lives. There’s a tenderness and a brutality in her art as she depicts their lives, and not always where you think those two elements would come out. Sometimes, her art is at its most harsh and angular when the two are seemingly happy together.
Flipping through the issue, I’m struck by the body language of characters. One page that shows them living their lives in the same house, but trying to avoid one another, is masterful in its facial expressions, avoided gazes, and the hugging of walls. You can see the moment play out perfectly.
In the text piece at the end of the issue, Wood suggests that more “Demo” may happen again in the future and I certainly hope so. I’m not one to insist that writers and artists do work they don’t want to do, but I hope that Wood and Cloonan return the series at some point, if only for another six issues, because these short visual stories have been the highlights of whichever Wednesday they’ve come out on.