In The Beginning….. A Graphic Cosmogony

Published On March 8, 2011 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

A Graphic Cosmogony

By Stuart Kolakovic, Mikkel Sommers, Brecht Vandenbroucke, Luke Best, Rob Hunter, Jon McNaught, Ben Newman, Andrew Rae, Luke Pearson, Jack Teagle, Jon Boam, Jakob Hindrichs, Clayton Junior, Daniel Locke, Isabel Greenberg, Mike Bertino, Nick White, Rui Tenreiro, Sean Hudson, Luc Melanson, Katia Fouquet, Yeji Yun, Matthew Lyons, Liesbeth De Stercke.

Nobrow Press

(Before I start, just to clear one thing up; Cosmogony is any theory concerned with the origins of the universe or reality. And yes, I did have to look it up. I blame a state school education for my bad grammar and a poor understanding of obscure Latin).

Creation myths are always one of the two really great bits of any theology. The other being the apocalyptic stuff that goes on at the end – and the more like a huge great Kirby imagined titanic tussle that is the better.

But creation myths are the best – often the really, really out there parts of any religion. The bits where you realise that so many religions are founded on the principles of a Shaman wandering off into the wilderness with just a few “magic herbs” and coming back, several days later, looking absolutely exhausted and severely dehydrated, babbling about this vision of the universe they’ve just experienced.

To take the one I’m most familiar with (although don’t agree with) – big bloke, 7 days (including a day off), creates absolutely everything out of thin air….  hmm, actually, that’s one of the tamer ones. And, when boiled down to it’s essential elements, rather dull.

Luckily, a fair proportion of the 24 artists in Nobrow Press’ anthology; A Graphic Cosmogony manage to vastly improve on that.

A Graphic Cosmogony is the first anthology from art publishers Nobrow Press. This is a Nobrow equivalent of McSweeney’s albeit with a very deliberate theme. The 24 artists in A Graphic Cosmogony tackle creation in a fitting 7 pages each – each one becoming that shamanic presence, creating their own wild, imaginative versions to answer that perennial question “how did we get here?”

(From Mikkel Sommers “Genesis”. Odin, starts his tale, albeit at the end of Sommers’ Norse creation story. And, as the other 23 artists are at pains to point out – just A beginning, not The Beginning. From A Graphic Cosmogony, published by Nobrow Press.)

“Genesis” by Mikkel Sommers is a perfect example of a great creation myth, far better than God simply making it all out of thin air. Taking his inspiration from Norse mythology, Sommers’ playfully retells this tale of creation (“In the very beginning there were neither duvets nor algorithms. Only the wintery nippiness of Niflheim and the scorching sultriness of Muspelheim”).

Using very open pages and bright, colourful, scratchy lines Sommers describes, with wit and a wry sense of wonder, all the quite ridiculous events that lead to the creation of the Norse pantheon; giants created from Ymer’s armpit sweat, his feet mating in his sleep giving birth to another giant. The final two pages are magnificent – Ymer’s body is literally and metaphorically carved up, the constituent parts creating the universe, whilst a bearded and eye-patched Odin utters those magic words: “Subsequently, the beginning”.

Some, like Sommers above, or Daniel Locke’s Inui tale of animal spirits of the Japanese/Russian ancient creation myth choose to focus on an existing version of creation, others manipulate and adapt what has been told before, but the majority go off in entirely new directions, as befits their roles here as modern shamen, reimagining the beginnings of the world through their art.

(Daniel Locke’s Inui tale of Moshiri Ikkewe Chep – big images, slightly sardonic narration, makes for a great 7 pages. From A Graphic Cosmogony, published by Nobrow Press.)

Nobrow has a reputation as a publisher creating beautiful art objects, and A Graphic Cosmogony is no exception to that – cloth bound spine, beautiful artwork on the front from Micah Lidberg and inside each crisp, matt textured page has a quality feel. A really beautiful book to hold and to look at. For such a new outfit, Nobrow have really established a “look” for their books. Lots of vivid but flat colour and artists with a very strong, yet simple style and it’s all the way through A Graphic Cosmogony. So much so that the one black and white 7 pager by Liesbeth De Stercke really does stand out, like a (very nice) sore thumb.

Once inside, it’s all very themed… and that is always a risky prospect. On the one hand it does give it a consistency, but when the anthology is defined by such a strict theme (Creation, 7 pages) the risk is that this constraint, this enforced content, rather dilutes the storytelling, no matter how visually interesting, the narrative all blurs into the theme.

And, despite it being, for the most part, visually intriguing and at times rather stunning, A Graphic Cosmogony, by the latter third, became a little laboured. I was simply tired of hearing the same things repeated again and again. It looked great for the most part, and the artists all had their things to say, but the theme was just too dominant. A break halfway through helped a little, but by then I feel the rot had set in to my poor brain.

However, coming back to it with fresh eyes and a new idea – dipping at random rather than simply going from start to finish, coupled with lots of breaks in reading allowed me to stave off some of the theme fatigue.

And then it becomes simply a case of pointing out some of the very successful 7 page stories in A Graphic Cosmogony. So… Where did we come from?

(A modern day pilgrimage by Jon McNaught, from From A Graphic Cosmogony, published by Nobrow Press.)

“Pilgrims,” by Jon McNaught. Beautifully drawn, as you would only expect if you’ve seen McNaught’s work before.

His panel layout, the tight grid structure that opens up when necessary to emphasise some ecclesiastical moment, and then tightens back down to the minutiau of the tourists undergoing a modern day pilgrimage, is a beautiully contructed meditaton on religion and the importance of iconography, in comics and in religious imagery.

(Slavish devotion to heretic – all it takes is a little infection to point out how close the two can be. From Stuart Kolakovic’s Illumination in A Graphic Cosmogony, published by Nobrow Press.)

“Illumination” by Stuart Kolakovic. A priest’s transformation, through infection, from traditional religious views to something more…. Illuminated, plays with the ideas of religious control, and questioning why one religious view is considered heretical when something equally unlikely and fantastical is held as scripture.

Sometimes divine revelation just isn’t enough – it needs the force of organised religion behind it to make it stick.

(God’s late, ill-prepared and hasn’t done his homework – perhaps that’s why the world turned out the way it did? “Deity School by Andrew Rae, from A Graphic Cosmogony, published by Nobrow Press.)

Andrew Rae’s “Deity School”. It’s perhaps the most traditional comic looking thing here, and sits almost uncomfortably amongst the bold and bright, more abstract works that surround it. But that doesn’t matter, as the simple idea, of a school for trainee Gods; Atlas, Gaia, Ganesh, God, Hermes and more, is funny and fresh, milked as it is for every possible gag: a sleepy Hypnos, Gaia barely managing to contain the vegetation sprouting from her desk, a bulked up Atlas uncomfortably squeezed in behind his desk, Mars looking to create trouble, and Venus, sans arms naturally, having a real problem acknowleding her teacher at registration.

Today’s lesson is creation, and God hasn’t done his homework. His plan is a blank page, his head seemingly empty of ideas, his finished product just a mess of cardboard box and hastily strung up planetary bodies. And on one of these rushed orbs, we zoom in, tighter and tighter, to view continents, a familiar island, a church and a priest asking his God to hear his prayers. But Rae’s God wont be listening, he’s probably in detention for trying to copy Ganesh’s plans.

A Graphic Cosmogony is a visually impressive book, with a good proportion of the 24 artists inside really outdoing themselves to make up some really surreal and yet, rather believable creation stories. The anthology does lag and stutter at times with a few duffers, but what did you expect?. Overall, provided you take it steady and don’t try to go for the whole thing in one sitting, it’s a damn fine read.

The thing is, I’ve just picked up on a few of the seven page tales of creation. You will most probably, given a choice, pick another set. Someone else would pick another set. And that’s what makes A Graphic Cosmongony a really good anthology – I think there’s enough variety in the styles and the stories that there really will be something very nice for everyone inside.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

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