Normalcy among the surrealism in 'Opplopolis'

(This post contains spoilers for Opplopolis Proceed at your own caution.)

This week, Kit Roebuck's Opplopolis starts Issue 14 as the entire saga slowly but surely approaching its planned conclusion with Issue 20. It's been a strange journey thus far, full of odd little left turns. There's a moment, for example, that seems to be a visual homage to The Shining. Agnes, an artist, is invited to a high-class celebrity party where she's already a bit out of place; she even needs her clothes ripped to shreds just so she can fit in. Thinking it a public service to the fashion-impaired, manufactured pop celebrity Vesper takes a pair of scissors to the artist's dowdy outfit to create a new dress that shows a bit more skin.

Agnes decides to cut loose a little on the dance floor, but her way to the bathroom she encounters a slightly disturbing sight: When she peeks in an open door, she sees two men wearing animal masks while playing a card game. Eventually, a third person wearing an upside-down cat mask shuts the door in Agnes' face (revealing a word that forms the comic's central mystery).

It's an off-kilter and memorable scene in a world that's awash in it. Agnes, for example, has been hanging with a pop star who's bummed out that two other versions of her are hogging the spotlight on the dance floor. If Agnes is creeped out by these grown men in cheap Halloween disguises, then something must be very wrong. Also adding to the effect: those creepy, unblinking eyes.

The effect is likely amplified because Agnes is the normal one. The other characters of Opplopolis have various degrees of eccentricity that set them apart from anyone you might run across in the real world. Agnes, however, is merely a struggling artist with a highly grounded perspective. The only other character who approaches her sensibilities is Tomaj Pangolin, a liberal professor with an inquisitive mind. As it turns out, he's her stepfather.

It's impressive, then, that one of the most memorable sequences seems to be in direct violation of comics' "show, don't tell" rule. Opplopolis is a very wordy comic, but not needlessly so. There's a big reason Roebuck goes to the "talking heads" format quite often, and it's partly because he wants us to pay attention to body language.

Agnes is on the phone with Tomaj's husband Sebastian, a chef who works at a remote island. He's drawn with a wide grin, which, at the beginning, seems to be the sort of pleasant face that one puts on when talking with family. He recalls his latest masterpiece. He only works with ingredients that are grown, caught or harvested on the island; a whale has washed ashore, making Sebastian giddy with excitement. He's already imagining all the dishes he can make: whale bacon, bone bread, etc. The joy comes from the opportunity to harvest a protected species. Agnes argues with him on it, pointing out that millionaires who've tasted once forbidden food will suddenly develop a taste for it.

The smile never leaves Sebastian's face. In fact, the cause of his glee has morphed into something else: excitement. "This is exactly the argument I so look forward to happening!" he says, his clenched teeth now betraying a hint of craziness. "You sound just like him!" His true reward, it seems, was one of mental edification. And there's poor, sensible Agnes --- stuck in world that she never made, trying her best to retain her composure amidst all the madness.

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