Wednesday, January 12, 2011

If 'n Oof

If 'n Oof is pretty incredible. I have to be honest, I was a little skeptical about this book before it came out due to it's format. It's 650 pages and made up entirely of full-page panels and double page spreads. My first instinct was that this was maybe a cop out. Brian Chippendale is known for his dense pages, particularly his "snake format" layouts which require the reader to alternate left-to-right and right-to-left orientations per row. A book of single panel pages didn't seem to make sense. I was wrong, If 'n Oof loses none of the Chippendales' hallmark kineticism. Instead of snaking back and forth the sequencing snakes onward and onward at an explosive pace

I was a late hold-out to Chippendale. When I first accepted the fact that I was obsessed with Art Comics I rifled through whatever works I could get my hands, many by his Providence, RI contemporaries like Mat Brinkman and Ben Jones. His newest work at the time, Ninja, didn't hold the same attractive force over me. The drawing itself didn't resonate with me instantly. When I finally got around to reading Ninja I was floored, specifically by the narrative. Chippendale is a master of accumulation. I guess in a way his entire artistic oeuvre has been driven by it. Whether it's the accumulation of noise in his music or the accumulation of readymade/junk in his collage and installation work. He brings the same sensibility to narrative. Accumulating one seemingly unrelated vignette after the other to compile something abstract, organic and profoundly cosmological. If 'n Oof is no exception.

One thing that jumps out to me immediately with If 'n Oof is the quality of the line. Chippendale's critics have at times dismissed him as a poor man's Gary Panter. He's starting to give Gary Panter a run for his money. The drawings are bold, muscular, and suggestive of true volume and weight. And the immediacy and kineticism, it's like he somehow lit ink of fire. The themes are at the same time playful and dystopian.

If 'n Oof is like discovering a secret level in an old video game. If Ninja was Legend of Zelda then some magic flute takes you to If 'n Oof. Characters wander in and out, late for very important dates. The story proper follows If, a mouse-like humanoid who is almost entirely naive (or at least amnesiac) and his wordless mini-blob pal Oof who saves the day like R2D2. Always the question before them is "who are we?", "where are we now?, "what do we do?". It's this open-endedness that gives Chippendale's world it's wild edge. The heroes seem to be always one step ahead of fear itself, there is no time for reason to catch up with them.

I try to read a lot of comics. I usually like what I read because I know what I like. It's not often that something really inspires me though. If 'n Oof is the type of book that makes we want to launch my own quest. Ultimately that's what the book is, Brian Chippendale's quest through his own work. He's a cartoonist who like If 'n Oof, seems to always be one step ahead of fear itself. I hope it never catches him.

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