“The answers I’m searching for, I find behind the Brown Door,” Buell Kazee says and descends into the cellar of Plex Knowe Crypt. He inserts the key and opens the door. “Buell,” exclaims a blister-headed monster behind the brown door. One skeletal arm and one green tentacle emerge from the monster’s shrimp-shaped carapace.
“Viskoser Tod. Are you hungry?” Buell asks.
“Yesss . . . Hungry . . ,” hisses Viskoser Tod.
Buell explodes with laughter: “HA HA HA!”
Holding the green tentacle in one hand, Buel laughs.
Buell must have been asking a rather simple question, or maybe Viskoser Tod could destroy Mosfet? I wrestle with questions. The shinny blue volume I hold in my hands. I can. I must. The great questions lead to greater awareness, and I have possession of Powr Mastr Volume 2!
Reading through the book I soon notice I have already reached page 100. One hundred pages? There’s more to come, but what happened? The events make sense in the same way a dream makes sense: internal logic. It’s strange; things happen in Vol. 2 but not in the conventional sense of one unfolding narrative idea. I like the open space, the clear line, the avoidance of rendering. There’s no crosshatching or filling in space with black. This creates a fluidity and fast pace to the art. It’s easy to look at and very readable.
Looking at the cover, there’s no visual cue that this is a “comic book”, no homage to any convention of traditional book design. Though the back cover has a picture: a kind of circus performer in frilled short shorts, elven boots, and a gloved hand holding a bifurcated whip. His expression made strange by facepaint to one side of his mouth. By page 100, I knew this character to be Ajax Lacewing, a homicidal maniac. He ejaculates as he pokes out the eyes of a giant. “Giants . . . rip off the head, the limbs pop off – works every time,” Ajax declares, holding his cock as creamy drops fall.
Powr Mastrs. The title itself is something to decipher. But let’s try: Power Masters. “Our plan to create a super warrior is on its way to completion once more,” says Cool George Herc. “Soon we will have Mosfet on his knees.” Now, I recognize the power struggle. It is a comic book. Enter the need for a character with something he desperately must obtain, the necessity of conflict. Sure, it’s a comic book trope, a narrative device, a man in a room must have something he wants, even if it’s just a glass of water. Most stories have a character or group of characters that have some identifiable purpose they struggle to achieve.
A difficulty with Powr Mastrs is evidenced in the number of characters, all quite unique. Let’s spend some time getting to know: Subra Ptareo, Naphtha, Laz, Bui, Hondo, Ahphsia the Witch, Ajax Lacewing, Windlass Wendy Wheeta the Witch, Cool George Herc, Darman Orry, Lady Minirex, Pico Farad, Constable Liederkreis, Mechlin Men, Steven, Buell Kazee, Mosfet Warlock, Tetradyne Cola, Jim Bored, Hannah the Witch, Viskoser Tod, and the Sub-Men.
That’s an ambitious roster of characters. Impressive and inventive. This book is calling out it’s epic from the first pages. A new and strange world. It is populated by many unknown beings. The challenge presented to the average reader of Powr Mastrs is quite simply to discern where the narrative is going. The map of Known New China at the front of the book is evidence that we’re not on Earth; it doesn’t readily resemble a land mass. What we seem to be inhabiting: it’s two circles, Ice and White Block, connected by a land bridge in the shape of a perfect arc called Oxbow Bridge. This illustrates the story’s general ambiance of abstraction. The map does list the disparate location of events in the story and connects them in space.
The characters relationship to each other coheres in the episode beginning on page 73, “Pico’s Cabinet”. Pico Farad offers the reader some explanation of what were dealing with in Plex Knowe Crypt, “A more or less comfortable prison, Plex Knowe Crypt’s resentful inhabitants represent some of Mosfet’s ill-fated schemes.” Buell Kazee is a super-warrior and guardian of Mosfet. Cool George Herc, a prisoner of the Crypt, enlisted Buell to overthrow Mosfet. And Mosfet? “He was, or is, so very strange, and so very unpredictable, and so old . . .” Naphtha informs us. And Naphtha? He is an elf, one of Mosfet’s only friends, and also close with Pico Farad. What are the nature of these relationships? Why does the assassin Ajax Lacewing give things to Pico Farad? Who are the ladies of Lace Temblor and why do they declare: “Hail, hail, the collapsing field . . . and hail to the true, intense guardians of the secret!?” Who are the guardians of the secret? It must be CF, the artist. CF must hold the secret. His subconscious is rife with mystery that unspools in his illustrious line.
CF’s short episodes are cruel and beautiful depictions that stand alone with strange resonance; the artist creates a shorthand link to the subconscious. This works well in the short form. Episodic. Each episode is a problem-finding exercise, each goes deeper into the subconscious and requires the artist to solve the narrative impulse, to create meaning. Pico’s Cabinet is a where the pieces of the puzzle are stored. “What are they for?” Pico implores. “I just don’t know . . . but I store their charge. I have the will to try to understand them . . . But I guess it’s more like the will to know what I ams (sic), or what I’m here for . . .” Readers attracted to Powr Mastrs are likely comfortable with uncertainty, ambiguity, newness. It’s on the level of figuring out a puzzle. Like, what happens next? Why did it happen? And most importantly, who am I? Where am I going?
Enter the necessity for Major Grubert. Moebius often drew pages straight into pen without any preliminary drawing or scripting. A pencil drawing is intimate; it is a first response to the creative impulse. It hasn’t been refined or worked into a technique designed for reproduction. It is unmediated. We see the mind at work. The artist finds the story by allowing a dialogue with the subconscious through an unfettered play of the imagination. The hermetic is self-contained; the Airtight Garage has it’s own reasoning accessed in the glimmerings of the subconscious.
“It’s nice at home,” Pico says, “because you can set things up the way that you want them. Outside . . . when you get stuck, it can be much harder to find an escape hatch.” Ultimately, the comic book itself is the escape. The imagination, the hermetic garage, the artist’s studio. That is the escape from the world. It’s where the power struggle has ended and everything is where you want it. The artwork is a gift to us from that place of power.
When I picked up Kramers Ergot #4 the thing was fairly dripping with hallucinogenic verve. I don’t care if the artists ever touched a single psychotropic substance in their life or not; the drugs aren’t what I was seeing, I was looking at the uninhibited imagination. I could take it all, but what most drew my attention were the pages of CF. The artist is Chris Forgues, originally from the Boston area. His credits include work with the Fort Thunder collective and Paper Rodeo. In the noise music scene, he records and releases music as Kites. It’s exciting to see the artist’s attention turned to the creation of Powr Mastrs. With the appearance of Volume 2 we receive the promise of more. The artwork develops; the color fairly drips; and the book does end in the tradition of an old serial: to be continued.