Sing a Song of Spiritus
Tim Daniel (words & design), Michael Kennedy (art), Lauren Norby (letterer)
The Vault, 2017
“This comic is like a song.” That’s something I say sometimes. I say it to mean I read this with my brain out of focus, like I saw the main strength of it with the part of my brain that processes experiences in ways analogous to the status of my eye when I’m successfully seeing the picture in a magic eye. Like I was asleep and I heard people talking. You know? I said it about Zoe Taylor for Breakdown Press‘s dreamy Joyride; I’m saying it about The Vault’s Spiritus. On the cover a woman and a cyborg run under dappled light, in seen-through-your-eyelids hues.
Spiritus‘ plot is straightforward and basic. A woman is in future-prison because she killed her husband (or did she?). Future-prisoners get dissolved and have their psyches transferred into robot bodies, which then perform community service. The woman is offered an out — she takes it, her mind is placed in a free robot body instead of a controlled one, and she has a chaperone mission in exchange for that boon. The dialogue and arrangement of the story is absolutely solid. I have no complaints to make; “basic” is not a negative. There’s nothing wrong with the story, script, pre-page narrative in Spiritus, which is to say it does a lot better for itself than many, and the gorgeous, gorgeous art provides huge value on top of that solid neutral. It lets it, as I say, sing.
Tim Daniel’s credits of “words and design,” perhaps explains that. If the scripter is also a designer, they are working with an aesthetic instinct. The script, perhaps, is designed to make room for the visuals within the sum whole — a balanced equation, rather than a result with all sorts of remainders and leftover fractions. Michael Kennedy, themselves on “art,” again suggests this melded outlook. Working lines and colours means we don’t know which came first, which drove the composition or the creative mood. The credits page places Daniel to the left of Kennedy, which implies that script predates art, but unseparated “art” doesn’t prioritise pencils over inking over colour, or any other hierarchy. “Words” instead of “written by” similarly destabilises the usual assumptions of creative supremacy. The palette is reduced, strongly indicative of stress or impaired cognition. Like being drunk, or confined in the dark, or on the edge of panic because your husband is dead and you’re soon to be turned into flesh slush. The colours of choice are pretty tasty, they have the feel of drinking that last melted juice at the bottom of a push-pop. You have to strain for it, but it’s intense, and it’s worth it. The weight and application of the lines compliment the tones; they’re solid, they’re jerky, but they’re not harsh or too fast. It’s beautiful, tactile, a form of sensuality that’s alien to eroticism but very present in wider human experience.
The main response to Spiritus seems to be everything here runs fluidly. This review at All-Comic draws a lovely comparison to red-figure pottery, and doesn’t abandon it after the first comparison but runs (ha ha) with the simile, looking at how thematic codewords vessel and relief run through the book. It’s that slippery that a reviewer has to slide alongside; get down in the sluice and try to feel out what’s here, because definitive detachment is a loser’s game.
Which is why it’s a punishment in Kinju’s world. Neat, huh?