Alex Degen is working in a place that many cartoonists want to be working in. It’s a place of wonder and experimentation. He’s definitely someone I’d love to sit down and have a long talk with over tea, beer, whatever. What he does in this collection of comics hits close to home since it’s the sort of comics I like to create. I feel that I know a goodly amount about this as I’ve studied numerous similar work over the years and I know several cartoonists in a similar boat. That said, this is a pretty specific way of working.
Some label this type of cartooning as “dream logic” or “psychedelic.” What they mean is that the work evokes an anything-goes quality or follows a stream-of-consciousness narrative. This is seemingly loose work. But that doesn’t mean it’s a free pass to get sloppy. Instead, you want to be pretty clean and precise with your presentation in order to go to some weird places and have it read properly. All this Degen does quite well.
This book collects six parts of previous webcomics which add up to one wild journey. Each part ends with a “to be continued” and it provides an essential pause. I say this because that may help break things down a bit for you, if you’re totally new. What you’ll initially find is a world where it seems as if anything is liable to explode or melt or some such surreal craziness. Let’s get one thing straight, the definition of “cancatervater.” It means, “to heap into a pile.” Does that help? Well, does it? Okay, think of this Cancatervater as a most sinister force plotting to take over the world. Now, add Mighty Star, our superhero, to the mix.
What happens is, well, a little of everything. It’s science fiction, fantasy, manga, and bit of a bodice ripper. Twice, we have two pretty young women suddenly bare breasted. One is Bijoux, a typical manga type in skin-tight clothes. The other is far less obvious, an aerialist, Zoe Trala. In both cases, it seems that a certain amount of tension, made up of pent-up hormones and angst, has reached a point of no return. The women’s clothes are not ripped off of them. They simply find themselves without tops. So, needless to say, this book has mature content, more for older teens and above. In the end, this book is more cerebral than titillating.
It’s after this second incident with Zoe Trala’s missing top that more nudity is included but it has purpose. It’s always of a rather understated nature, not offensive or particularly gratuitous. And it leads us to one of the most compelling scenes in the narrative. Mighty Star’s journey leads him to a forest. And hanging from the trees are numerous naked bodies of both men and women. They aren’t hung dead bodies. No, instead, they fall from the trees just like apples. In fact, they each have a big apple stem where each head should be. This is the most explicit symbol of the forbidden knowledge that Mighty Star has been confronting all along.
All the characters here are elusive and enigmatic. Moreover, the superhero motif is not obviously vigorous but mysterious. In a setting for action there is farce and ambiguity. The style here is a somewhat rougher version of King City’s Brandon Graham. Offbeat. Off–kilter. Dialed back to just the right frequency. When you expect conflict, you may end up with a muffled sedate response. Sex. Violence. Superheroes. Leave it to a cartoonist like Alex Degen to balance all that with such a wry and ironic sensibility.
Yes, Alex, I’ll be waiting with tea, beer, or whatever. I’m sure we’d have one hell of a good talk.
MIGHTY STAR AND THE CASTLE OF THE CANCATERVATER is a 172-page, black & white, trade paperback, priced at $15.00, published by Koyama Press. For more details, visit our friends at Koyama Press right here.