A faceless guy in a lab coat turns away from his work on a circuit board to make some coffee. He adds a pill to his cup that he plucks out of a little bag with tweezers. He then pulls out his penis and pees all over the circuit board. He catches the drips of urine into his fresh cup of coffee. Yikes! So begins Chris C. Cilla’s little masterpiece in twisted comics, “THE HEAVY HAND.” Like any good comic with an underground vibe, this one definitely takes you on a trip. Cilla has been doing comics his way, the self-published way, for a number of years. Recently, he made his way into the prestigious anthology, “Kramer’s Ergot.” Now, with this new book, published by Sparkplug Comic Books, he can extend his vision further.
A little of everything happens in this book along with a whole lot of profound nothingness. Our main character is a cipher of a man, Alvin Crabshack, a sad sack with a bulbous nose. He announces to his lover, Heather, that he’s off to a new town and a new job, something about assisting a famous scientist, a Professor Berigan. He mentions a book about the inventor of cheap but absorbent towels that inspires him. And then he stumbles out the door. This is a relief to Heather who is only half interested in what happens to him next. Alvin then stops by to see his other girlfriend, Lily, a duck-billed woman, who has just as little patience for him. The next day, Alvin hops a ride with Walter, an old pal, with a ski slope nose and baggy eyes. The first chance Walter gets, he abandons Alvin at a ramshackle of a gas station, that doesn’t sell gas, in the middle of nowhere. Nice, huh?
A number of oddball scenes later, Alvin finally arrives at his destination, Honeypot Caverns, where Professor Berigan is alone against a rival set of scientists, resentful that he stole equipment from them. What keeps them there is the study of some very strange creatures: ones that look like huge lima beans that swim in the cave pools; and ones that look like reptiles, as big as humans, that reside inside eggs. Once Alvin has made contact with the professor, there is no doubt that Alvin is more of a dopey stalker than someone Berigan wants to spend much of any time with. Given the chance, Berigan would also abandon Alvin at the nearest gas station. But fate has other plans. As befitting such an existential romp, the two of them become inseparable. They proceed on a psychedelic journey that would have made Carlos Castaneda and Hunter S. Thompson proud. Given all the relentlessly inane observations and dialogue, Andy Kaufman, among those outside comics, would get the biggest kick out of this surreal sideshow. Within comics, R. Crumb might indulge a few chuckles, maybe a genuine guffaw.
A number of books have been called, “a pure comics experience,” and it’s nice to know that the label often does apply. Cilla masterfully moves his way through his comics. He has a keen sense of what will work when making art. “The Heavy Hand” is a meandering anti-story that, at the same time, embraces storytelling. The classic story of human weakness is retold in a variety of ways. And, each time, creatures await to provide humanity with its comeuppance. While there is all manner of casual activity, the pacing is not random. The story is lightly sectioned off by titles that gently float above, with goofy names, but that anchor things into place. Each section is a story within a story, within another story. Instead of a free fall into nihilism, there is a healthy tension between the art and the art wanting to call attention to itself and say it’s all a sham. It is no sham. What it is, is comics.
“The Heavy Hand” is a 6”x 9” trade paperback, 108 pages, $14, available at bookstores and comics shops, by visiting Sparkplug Comic Books or directly from C. Cilla.