The Prince, a graphic novel by Liam Cobb, published by Retrofit Comics & Big Planet Comics, has an intriguing reserve about it. There is an ambiguous and messy quality at play. It takes patience to build something like this brimming with mystery and irony.
This is the story of May and she’s in love with a frog. Well, she is and she isn’t. There’s a frog and there isn’t–or it’s more than just a frog. And if the frog is more MacGuffin than frog, then it’s one of the best MacGuffin frogs I’ve seen in comics. This is the magical world of comics we’re dealing with here so there’s more than one of these MacGuffin frogs. Jim Woodring comes to mind.
Like I was alluding to, this is a very strange and quirky work that, as they say, in lesser hands, would likely fail. Because, let’s face it, this is very arty–but in a good way. For instance, Cobb gets to release some angst with little subversive acts of being intentionally “bad.” This is evident in his sometimes atrocious use of digital coloring. “Atrocious” in the sense that it’s not clean. It’s clearly calling attention to itself with its smudgy application but it’s purposeful, intended to add to the tension. Of course, I could be wrong but I don’t think so. In other places, Cobb demonstrates he’s quite capable of competent, even skillful, digital coloring.
Frog or no frog, Cobb does a fine job of pushing the envelope of what is possible in the comics medium. We have May and Adrian trapped in a bad marriage. Adrian is the bread winner but is a loathsome abusive monster. May stays at home and easily drifts into long stretches of daydreaming. Our story begins with May bringing home a stray late night lover–and it’s a man, not a frog. It’s not a pretty sight but, then again, that scene, like the rest of the book, is full of wry wit.
Once you have your premise set up, a talented and adventurous cartoonist can run wild–and so does Cobb to the reader’s delight. Enjoy this artful comic for all its worth. I particularly love the extended scenes showing one or two characters leaving or entering somewhere else. Cobb is great at lingering over things long enough to pluck out other possibilities. For example, there’s an interesting passage when May and a lover are walking down a street at night that is lit up by lights. We see them walk into the circles of illumination created by the streetlamps. Then we see the same circles turn into portals and May disappears through one of them. Ah, now that’s the magic of comics–and Cobb is some magician!
The Prince is a 120-page two-color softcover graphic novel (available in print or digital), published by Retrofit Comics & Big Planet Comics. The Prince will debut at Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland. You can also find Liam Cobb on Instagram right here.