Complex Issues 1 & 2 (# 27 & 31 of the Strip For Me series)
Last time I mentioned Complex was back when I first looked at Douglas Noble’s comics and, although it was only up to 4 pages, I did say I’d be following Complex online. Ooops. I really am crap with keeping up with webcomics. So these first two collections of Complex are me coming at it completely anew.
And I’m beginning to think Douglas Noble may be a tortured genius. Or possily borderline insane. His comics, carefully constructed and difficult, are dark, visionary things, full of unexplained events and deliberately, wonderfully vague and uncertain. It requires serious thought on the part of the reader, a commitment to fully engage, completely immerse oneself into the worlds he creates and several readings before the full extent of his work hits home. Live Static was brilliant and Complex is just as good, albeit completely different.
I found Complex absolutely enthralling in all it’s claustrophobic, doom-laden, confusing, complicated story. Like most of Noble’s work I loved it even though I’m not entirely sure I completely understand it all yet. He does a great job of sucking the reader into his dark and claustrophobic world.
(Part of the opening chapter of Complex by Douglas Noble. Eerie, doom laden stuff. A real end of the world sort of thing)
Complex is an end of the world tale, a waiting for armageddon tale – well, maybe. Like most things in Noble’s work we’re never quite certain. All we know from these first two collections of his online Complex strip is that a group of scientists, living and working in a research base (the Complex of the title) are convinced they are witnessing the imminent destruction of the world.
How they know we’re never made fully aware, it may all be simply an over-reaction and a terrible outbreak of mass hysteria. There’s a huge plume of blue smoke on the horizon and it’s getting closer and closer, the media reports are strange and fragmentary and are soon cut-off, never to return. The Complex is isolated, and the place goes bad very quickly. This is the story of what happens whilst everyone waits.
(The smoke approaches, the scientists are cut off, and one man watches and waits, observing all. Paranoia and panic from Complex issue 2 by Douglas Noble)
We switch seamlessly in Complex between the now of a wrecked, near deserted Complex and a then of pre-smoke, pre panic. But even before the smoke appeared on the horizon it was a pressure-cooker of a place, with no map, secretive levels, unknown passageways, unmarked stairwells leading down to the lower levels where no one is quite sure what exactly goes on.
The cracks soon began to show, all of those neuroses and egos in one place soon spilling over into feuds and violence, all observed carefully by Gardner; an expert (possibly) in entropy and decay, who takes to roaming the corridors pre-smoke, altering the machinery, observing his fellow scientists and waiting for everything to fall apart.
And post smoke the scientists fall into near feral behaviour, panic sets in; vandalism, violence, drink, drugs and Gardner again; possibly engineering the mass exodus of all but the final four scientists, observing, recording, even going as far as creating bizarre, increasingly quasi-religious art installations from the machines lining every corridor.
Everything, from the language to the thick panel borders boxing each carefully constructed panel in throughout the comic are designed to add to the sense of oncoming doom and intense clautrophobia faced by the members of the Complex. His thick lines and simple constructions vaguely remind me of Ted McKeever, albeit without McKeever’s exuberance and mania – this is all a highly controlled work, in art as it is with story.
(Yep, that sums up my approach to Noble’s work. I gave up second guessing him a while ago and now I’m happy to go along with it, enjoying whatever fascinating direction he takes his work)
Right now, I have very little idea of what is going on here. It might be real, it may be a test, it may be the machinations of one of the scientists left at the Complex – I have ideas, but I’ve read enough of Noble’s work to know it’s not a good idea to be second guessing him.
All I can say with certainty is that I’ll be reading more of Complex online and I’ll be looking forward to the next print collection with some anticipation. Noble’s work is challenging and very, very enjoyable. Give it as try.
Complex is currently up to chapter 4 online at Noble’s Strip For Me website. Collections of Complex and his other works are available to buy there as well.