Review: What Parsifal Saw
Ron Rege Jr. (Writer & Artist)
Fantagraphics provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
In his previous collected work, Cartoon Utopia, Ron Rege Jr. suggested that readers read the book like a textbook. Not necessarily in sequential order. Looking for bits and pieces at a time, and certainly not all at once. I tried this recommendation while reading his second collection What Parsifal Saw, but if this is the case, it’s a poorly conceived textbook. This isn’t the fault of the artist or the book, it’s really the metaphor’s fault because What Parsifal Saw happily defies categorization.
A textbook implies a curated narrative of information. What Parsifal Saw is too esoteric for curation. A graphic novel implies narrative. With the exception of a parody of Wonder Woman, there is no narrative to the comics in this collection. Even “collection” implies a thoroughfare where there is none. What Parsifal Saw reads more like a compilation of not just Rege’s socio-political-religious hits, but also the variety of texts that inspire him. It’s very postmodern pastiche,while still being unique to the creator. Yet, I am afraid to say that in my academic quest for narrative in this compilation, I kept coming up short. Let’s talk a bit more about that.
One of the comics in the collection is “Cosmogenesis,” an adaptation of the writings of 19th century spiritualist, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who Rege views as a matriarch for more commonplace new age philosophies. The premise intrigues—the comic feels like an illuminated manuscript with panels that fill entire pages. However, the density of the text and art fails to illuminate much of anything, as does the eye-searing color palette of red and yellow. Considering the density of Rege’s art, this seems an unfortunate choice in coloring.
“Cymatic Theremapy” uses a softer palette, like the one shown in the cover above, and is sporadically interspersed throughout the entire collection. The pastels lend distinction to Rege’s lines and create the trademark naivete he is known for. Where “Cosmogenesis” falls short in uniting form and theme, “Cymatic Theremapy” is a delightful meditation on esotericism and physics. In such an idiosyncratic collection, this comic stands out for its feeling—it delights in ideas about the world like a deeply earnest geek in the throes of fangirling. It’s notable that this comic features more traditional four-sided panels that contain Rege’s defiance of form and narrative. Whether this is a shortcoming of the reviewer or the creator is up to you to decide.
The palette and materials in “Observation of Ancestral Mysteries at the Bridge of the Unseen” showcase the magic of Rege’s art best. This comic features white ink on black paper with a chalky texture that makes the art dance and shine across the page. Reading it left me longing for a huge fine art piece of Rege’s work, spanning a wall in my home, but alas, fine art is not within my budget. This is the moment in reading this book where the limitations of the medium are most apparent.
Overall, What Parsifal Saw feels like a fine artist playing with comics. The dissonance creates a fanciful experience that is more contemplation than story. Basically, it’s weird and atypical, and that’s kind of cool, but also a letdown. It’s like hooking up with the hetero guy who can talk postmodernism with you, but being let down when your geeking out over surrealism won’t lead you to climax.