Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ancient Joe #3

Ancient Joe #3, December 2001, Dark Horse Comics
by C. Scott Morse

Blogger's note: Entry for Tuesday, February 19, 2008.

This review of Ancient Joe #3 is the first in a series of sophomore looks at series I reviewed during the first year of A Comic A Day. The attempt to garner a second impression of any given series kind of contradicts one of the implied purposes of this project -- to approach each comic book as if it were my first, free of preconception about its creators, characters, and context. At the same time, assuming this first impression is worthy of a second, finding an issue from the same series is exactly what a first time comics reader would do. It’s safe. This time, you have some idea of what you’re getting into.

Ancient Joe is a good place to start, because, having read the first issue in this three issue miniseries over a year ago (it was actually the sixth issue I ever reviewed!), with essentially another comic book filling the gap for every day in between, I don’t remember much about it, and that’s okay. Scott Morse obviously approaches every issue as an individual piece of sequential art, establishing a rich atmosphere and sense of ambiance before diving into the momentum of its respective story. The first page of #3, for example, takes its time establishing Joe’s tropical setting. Whereas the last issue of most minis would waste no time picking up where the previous installment left off, Ancient Joe #3 might as well be number one in its reverence for pacing and mood development.

Another element worthy of analysis is Morse’s minimal use of dialogue. As his name implies, the tale of Ancient Joe is rich with mythical undertones, and when his search for a friend’s lost daughter reveals that she’s dead, the macabre mystery takes a supernatural turn as Joe accidentally travels to a makeshift purgatory, where he also uncovers some truth about his own wife’s disappearance, too. Morse tells a strange tale, and he doesn’t waste his time trying to explain it. Unless the previous issues so established this series’ lore that one last explanation was unnecessary, Morse leaves plenty to the reader’s imagination, which inadvertently creates a pseudo two way street storytelling technique. Further, the lack of lofty dialogue encourages the reader to spend more time studying Morse’s rich brushstroke, which are a joy to behold even in black and white, to mention simple and elegant in their execution. Morse is the type of artist that makes a reader want to try their hand at a similar style of art, then curse him when the attempt fails miserably.

So, if I were a comics novice reading Ancient Joe for the second time, would I come back for more? Absolutely. Morse has a quirky style that infuses his work with a sense of cultural relevance, affirming another of my implied approaches to A Comic A Day -- that, when the comic book medium is executed properly, every issue is a virtual museum, as every page is a proverbial exhibit of individual pieces that comes together to make a singular statement. True, they’re not all going to be the Mona Lisa, but one of them, either in its composition or text, should touch an observer in such a way as to build an emotional connection . . . you know, like art is supposed to do. It’s an ancient tradition that has spanned the test of time.

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