It's been roughly a generation since Fantagraphics Books helped to establish geek chic by publishing the work of such champions of the ironic self-deprecating "loser," Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes. This latest Fantagraphics release, "King of the Flies Vol. 2: Origin of the World," is part of that fine tradition and centers around one glorious loser in particular, Eric, a most callow and foul youth. Like any good rebel without a cause, he wishes for unlikely redemption. However, on any given day, you can find Eric slumped over in a drugged stupor wearing a giant mask shaped like the head of a fly. He might be plotting on which woman to prey on next or how to kill his stepfather.
The creators of this book are clearly enthralled with American culture, particularly the pulp version, dark and seedy. They are writer Michel Pirus and artist Pascal (Mezzo) Messenburg. They are French. Pirus was born in 1962. Mezzo was born in 1960. An excellent vintage. For creative types, that means they can still be as surly as any teenager. They are not young upstarts only commenting on "Ghost World" or "Black Hole." They are contemporaries with similar cultural references points: The Sex Pistols, The Smiths, David Lynch.
The narrative is intertwined through various stories following the misadventures of various misfits, outlaws and ghosts. This is the second installment of a trilogy. Pick any page at random, and you'll find something wonderfully curious. Whether or not it all adds up in the end, seems beside the point. It's not like David Lapham's noir masterpiece, "Young Liars," where the plot promises an amazing ending. No, "Flies" is more about the journey than the end. It's about one odd moment after another.
Take, for instance, our hero Eric, he's seated in his lawn chair, wearing his huge fly head, when Francis, his stepfather, swoops down on him. He's been busy moving into Eric's home. He's been playing his music loudly. He begins to yell insults and bang on Eric's mask. Eric recalls, "I could hear Kajagoogoo echoing in my skull." Suddenly, Eric hits Franics in the eye and sets up tragic consequences up ahead.
Another arresting moment is when Ringo abruptly arrives at Marie's home just after she and Eric have made love. Ringo drops off a bag in the shape of a toy elephant and demands he guard it. Like any good McGuffin, we really can't see how or if this mysterious bag has any meaning beyond keeping the characters moving. This scene is also a fine example of the interesting use of caption and dialogue. The caption boxes and dialogue balloons are all the same rectangular shape. The captions sometimes include dialogue and don't bother with quotation marks. So, the narrative spills off very smoothly from caption box to dialogue box.
There's one bit I especially like where one character is providing social commentary. I'm not sure if something is lost in translation. In this particular scene, Karine, feeling rather miserable, fixates upon some seemingly coy youth. She is certain he's putting on an act by his casually leaning up against a trash can. But, in the book, she is supposed to be fed up with his "I-give-a-shit attitude." Wouldn't be more accurate to say she was fed up with his "fake I-don't give-a-shit attitude"? Either way, it's nicely creepy.
One more good scene gets inside the head of Ringo, the thug. Apparently, there is more than beer, porn and murder on his mind. In this scene, he is contemplating the lack of intuition in today's generation. He concludes that they're all anesthetised, "force-fed by their folks and eaten up by shrinks till every last shred of intuition is gone."
"Flies" is essentially about moments, one strange moment after the other. It brings to mind David Lynch but it should also bring to mind Alfred Hitchcock. Rigorously planned out ahead of time, his best work retains the freshness and kinetic energy of so many strange moments perfectly timed. Undoubtedly, "Flies" will be more than a string of moments and will have an ending as poetic as its best scenes.
Visit Fantagraphics Books where you can purchase "King of the Flies, Volume 2: The Origin of the World." It is a 9.25" x 12.5" hardcover, 64 pages, $18.99 US.