Thursday, November 22, 2012

Review: The Mire

Live After Death
The Mire holds mysteries; skeletons so shrouded and secrets so subtle that when artist, author and auteur Becky Cloonan at last pulls back the pall, she reveals human frailty, its folly and how love endures even after death. The Mire would make Edgar Allan Poe shake with envy and weep with joy.
Where Wolves, Cloonan's previous mini-comic, relies on an austere economy of language, she dresses The Mire in a finery of words and letters, vows and curses. There is always someone (or something) with a question to ask, an order to give or a tale to tell. What gets said (and read) allows one more tumbler to fall into place and brings another terrible truth to light. Cloonan's canniness appears in the title; The Mire hangs heavy with consequences and relies on allusion, elusion and illusion to tell a unique tale.      

Cloonan locates The Mire around a simple plot: a knight, Sir Owain, on the eve of battle, tasks his squire, Aiden, to brave the ''withering swamp'' and deliver a letter, post-haste, to Castle Ironwood. A portion of the Poe-ness present in The Mire comes from how Cloonan builds suspense through texts. Like Poe's unnamed narrators who write or receive letters, the act of correspondence animates this story and gives Cloonan the freedom to play with text and image on myriad levels.  

Once Aiden sets out there is a (near) imperceptible change in how the narrative is told. This kind of delicate touch demonstrates Cloonan's command as a storyteller and comic book artist. Either by coincidence, convenience or in deference to her muses -- Cloonan's artfulness pulls off the trifecta -- a particular species of bird appears to act as an avian usher when Aiden enters the swamp. This same bird remains a presence in the story, a feathered Virgil on vigil.
Ink defines Becky Cloonan as an artist. The first panel proper (an opening page shows Sir Owain in reverie before his worktable) is of fingers, pen, paper and ink pot -- Cloonan must have smiled when she came up with that idea. Hair and bare branches, armor and eye sockets, cloaks and bed curtains, all appear rich, deep and dark, ink is Cloonan's true signature; a landscape of silhouettes and soulful lines.
Cloonan drapes The Mire in curtains. Characters act as showmen pulling back blinds and parting canvas walls to reveal an in-between world, half-open and half-obscured -- a setting, again, where Roderick Usher or Ligeia would feel at home. Cloonan's men, women and children all brood beneath a foreground of tousled brows suffuse with secrets. The atmosphere may be furtive, the motifs enigmatic, but at its nucleus, The Mire is a romance and at her heart, Cloonan is a literary and classic romantic.
The reader who troubles The Mire wades into moralities murky and consequences clear, a tale both sad and wise and a work of passion, craft and smarts. Becky Cloonan knows how to wound with words and kill with pictures -- a singular talent of pen and prose.


The Mire, Wolves and something called a Manticore Tote of Holding are all available at

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