5 out of 5
This is one of the best comics I have ever read. After a couple of decades of dedicated comic reading – post the on and off years of my youth – it is, for better or worse, difficult to experience a book in a wholly new, page-turningly gripping fashion. That’s not to say there aren’t / haven’t been plenty of awesome books along the way, but after you’ve knocked out some templates and formulated a cache of your favorite issues and writers, there are things that can be weird and contemplative and exciting and awesome to look at and fun to read, but are all building off of some fundamental game-changing experiences you’ve already had. Such is life in general, I’d say, with ‘favorite issues and writers’ subbed in by moral / behavioral frameworks.
Pat Grant’s The Grot isn’t without influences, of course, and smarter readers than me will surely pick up on how the story is structured more swiftly, and / or not gel well with the purposefully grody art style, which cycles the squashed and comixy stylings of naughty artists from Robert Crumb up through Johnny Ryan through the detailing of the Brandon Graham school for the cluttered, trash- and slop-strewn world of and zitted, sweaty characters that inhabit the swamp town of Falter City – further grossed up with a sickly (and lovely, and perfect) pink and brown and green watercolor-looking palette from Fionn McCabbe. But I loved this – I loved the meeting of these two art styles; I loved how huge and world-building the brothers Penn and Lippy’s slow, manually-pedaled wagon trip to the City was, and yet how localized and cramped and grounded the City felt as we explore it for the books’ main chapters. The tone’s balance between a humorous concept – come to Falter City to make your fortune setting up a yogurt shoppe; the duo’s mother passing on the family business while obsessively talking about olfactory abilities to suss out fermenting matters in the air – and the increasingly darker dual plotline of the hundreds of conmen and -women populating the town, which has had its population surge due to a weird spin on a gold rush, supplanting the metal with unique strains of algae found in the swamps – this balance is brilliant, and masterfully pulled off: we start to side more with Penn’s average Joe explorations of the lower-tier denizens and their activities, while we also come to fear for Lippy’s involvement with the shady business side of things, and Grant keeps juggling the two threads in a way that just had me flipping madly wondering / fearing who was going to come out on top and on top of what…
And this is the main magic trick of The Grot: it’s very funny, but very bleak at the same time, and the latter isn’t used as a “surprise,” necessarily: it’s always there. It’s always there in a way that doesn’t feel cruel, either, even if the world in which the tale takes place is, damn, a cruel one. This is also an ideal use of the comic book format, because I don’t know if I could tolerate the look and feel of this world as a movie. I don’t know if I could sympathize with ne’er-do-wells and naieves done up in this fashion if they were real human beings – it’d be an outsider art thing (think Tim and Eric) and then also have a very emotional heart to its narrative, and while that’d be an interesting experiment, I’m not sure it would work in any other way than how Pat has presented it.
There’s a blurb calling this “book one” of a series. I can only hope. And even if this, book one, proves to be a new template – meaning book two doesn’t have the same impact on me – that’s still a damned awesome accomplishment, to be able to shake up this comic reader’s readings so many years down the road.