A 52 Second Silence for Topsy

Published On May 25, 2007 | By Joe Gordon | Comics, Reviews

Malcy Duff’s new comic, a 52 Second for Topsy, is now available to order via his Missing Twin site, which he also tells me he plans to update more regularly, so we should check in more often to see just what strange and delightful (and disturbing) things are working their way out of the corners of Malcy’s imagination.

Topsy cover.jpg

(cover to A 52 Second for Topsy, (C) Malcy Duff)

I was lucky enough to get a copy of Topsy (thanks, Malcy)and found it quite striking. It is another ‘silent’ production from Malcy, textless, relying only on a sequence of images of the eponymous Topsy, an unfortunate elephant who was declared too dangerous by her owners after having killed people (although it looks as if at least some of those people had been cruel to the poor creature and brought it on themselves). Topsy was put to death by electricity – probably still a novelty for many people then – and Edison, ever the shameless self-promoter, used the occasion to make people aware of his DC electricity supply. A large audience of around 1500 people are thought to have witnessed the event, while Edison used an early cinecamera to capture it on film for later show to even greater numbers (Wiki has an entry and link to a file of the movie, should you want to see it). Human cruelty and human technical ingenuity combined to create a gruesome spectacle, not for the first, or sadly, last time.

Reading Malcy’s take on Topsy – done after a visit to Coney Island – the modern reader may recoil in horror at the barbarism of people a century ago, but we see worse barbarisms every evening on the television news in our own homes and, alas, suffering and death have provided spectacle and entertainment for humans for time immemorial (just think on the Roman Coliseum, or look at Jamie Delano’s darkly satirical Cruel and Unusual). And no matter how disgusted the modern reader may be by the thought of people watching a grand creature’s execution as if it were a theatre show, they can’t disassociate themselves from it in this comic – Malcy holds the same perspective throughout, the reader viewing from behind the heads of the front row of spectators; our viewpoint is the same voyeuristic one of that 1903 audience, making the reader feel some complicity in the act, share the mix of morbid fascination and disgust.

Topsy triptych.jpg

(three frames from a 52 Second Silence for Topsy, (C) Malcy Duff)

Structurally the 52 seconds silence takes place over 52 pages, with the illustrations changing slightly from page to page – in fact, it is almost like looking at still frames from an animation and if you flipped through the pages rapidly the pictures do give a rough feeling of animation. It isn’t an easy read – given the subject matter, it probably shouldn’t be anyway – and, as with other work by Malcy the reader is respected as someone with a brain who can take these images and interpret them to complete a narrative of their own. Which means that each person who reads this will probably take a different set of meanings from it.

That’s true to a certain extent of any text, of course, but more so in this kind of work, where the creator expects the reader to put some effort in as well and not simply be spoon-fed a story and explanations. For example, Kenny has also read it and he thought he saw allusions to the fall of the Twin Towers, which I didn’t – this really is a very individual experience; some creators have an encoded preferred reading in their work – Malcy may have, but he isn’t about to bludgeon anyone with it, he wants his reader to think, which is no bad thing. It probably means he also limits his own potential readership since a lot of folks simply won’t get it – or perhaps are unwilling to put in the effort to read it – but I doubt Malcy is overly worried on that score either and probably prefers a smaller audience who will think about the work than big-selling, mainstream item which becomes another commodity. Certainly not for everyone, but for some it will be quite an experience. Copies can be ordered now via Malcy’s Missing Twin website.

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About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.