The Heavy Hand

In an opening sequence as good as anywhere that displays the simple pleasures of reading comics, we watch a silent character in a lab coat build a machine and drink coffee, till he abruptly pulls out his dick and pisses all over the machine, short circuiting it, then gathering the electrified fluid back into his coffee cop. A satisfyingly random act, yet one with some apparent hidden meaning. It's an auspicious opening.
A book length story told in episodic, individually titled pieces-some no more than a single panel, some entirely wordless, The Heavy Hand (Sparkplug Books), gives Chris Cilla space to move around and continually build, both texturally and emotionally on a narrative that always feels a step or two ahead of the reader. Relationships feel fully realized, plans already in motion, a world moving, and in my favorite sequence that follows the sad demise and rebirth of an abused donkey, it extends into the mythic and the spiritual.
A beautifully casual scene of farewell between lovers ends with three empty panels of a dumpy apartment, conveying a bittersweet note of early morning clarity and emotional distance. It's a subtle touch, but not unnoticed. Throughout the book, Cilla places off handedly touching moments and bits of dialogue where you least expect them, contextualizing all the petty backstabbing and drunken theorizing. Every character in the book feels alive, each with their own way of talking, their own idiosyncrasies, obsessions. Alvin, the main character, stranded at a gas-less gasoline station in the middle of nowhere, chomps angrily on a couple of microwave cooked hot dogs between slices of wheat bread as he plots revenge on his friend who just stole $60 bucks and his ride to a promised far away job. That's the kind of beautifully convoluted cartooning I can rally behind-plot, humor, pathos, detail, all in that hotdog on wheat sandwich. Many of the characters come across as self serving in oddly endearing ways, talking about their pet projects, bitching, scheming, their giant noses a physical manifestation of over developed ego. That self serving motivation comes through in the environments as well, as the streets, cars and homes on display are usually trash strewn, dirty, and cluttered. It's a hell of a world. Cilla is interested in ideas as much as he is in the chaos of people, so there's always new things being brought up and being wrestled with. It makes for an engaging read and with Cilla's excellent cartooning, where each character feels fully alive and motivated, it really comes alive. The drawing, though rougher, reminds me of the great cartoonists of the past like King and Grey, where every incidental character that pops up looks like a potential lead, they are so visually distinct.
And as a long time fan of Cilla, it is a pleasure to finally have a book to soak in all the incidental drawings that he scatters before and after and between the strips. This seems like maybe the first time he has had the space to just let things breath. On first reading the ending came too quick, with much of the plot still left in the air, but on further reading, it feels right for a book that is so much about the unexpected left turn and stilted expectations. Praise to Sparkplug for making this book happen!
Order it online here.

posted by sammy at 2:53 PM