Thanks to the wonders of the Amazon Wish List I managed to score a mother load of great comics over the holidays, POWR MASTRS 3 was the first one I wanted to read. Christopher Forgues, otherwise known as the enigmatic CF in comics circles first launched POWR MASTRS in 2007 as a now (almost) annual series of graphic novellas. Each volume is a little over 100 pages and features a day glow flexi-bound cover with foil stamped graphics. The cover design is consistent from volume to volume with only the color scheme and volume number changing on the front cover, and a selection of interior artwork featured on the back (also foil stamped.) The sleek exterior design serves as contrast to CF's trademark raw interiors which feature experiments with xerography, white-out and erasure marks, and craftily though seemingly semi-rendered pencil line. Although it was the first thing in the stack I read it somewhat left me scratching my head. This volume was different, more narratively abstract and decompressed then my memories of the first two. I didn't know quite what to make of it so I decided to reread the first two volumes for narrative and structural context.
For those of you not familiar with the series I'll try to provide a quick rundown. POWR MASTRS takes place in a world called New China. For the most part New China is a place out of time with elements of sword & sorcery fantasy alongside those of techno-science fiction. There are overtones of conceptual art mysticism throughout and the general social architecture of New China is completely mysterious and seemingly chaotic. Fetishistic sexuality is a major theme throughout all the volumes, something that CF blends seamlessly with magic and mystery of POWR MASTRS. The characters within are more like forces of nature or emotional avatars, gods almost, wandering through New China on their own schedules possessed of their own devices. The first character you meet is Subra Ptareo, a young masked adventurer who finds himself seemingly lost on a quest he only vaguely understands. The masked nature of this character creates the perfect subjective vessel for the reader to place his or herself into, so it's a useful character to encounter first. POWR MASTRS 1 launches a lot of narrative ships, at least five give or take. These threads interact slightly but not much narrative progress is made despite the relative high density of the first issue. In POWR MASTRS 2 CF begins a process of decompression that may have left some of the more traditionally minded readers unsatisfied. There isn't much progress in narrative either and it leads one to wonder if CF ever intends for there to be. A few new characters are introduced in volume 2, including Steven, an agent of chaos who first appears in KRAMER ERGOT 6. On an visual note we are also introduced to full-color sequences that feature CF's beautiful watercolors, a welcome addition to the otherwise clean, stark line.
Volume 3 opens with the introduction of Bashton Riyder, a racer charged with the task of cross-polinating the flora of New China. Vegetation and natural wonder is another visual theme that can be found in all three volumes, New China being presented as a wild, Eden-like realm underscoring the inherent sexuality of the work. The Bashton Riyder sequence immediately reminded me of a famous sequence from Moebius' ARZAK where a lone character races across a desert landscape to begin the story. It's a nice way to re-enter the world, like being shot into orbit. Moebius, and now CF, are masters of fantasy and ask us dive in head first with no promise of safe waters. I could write a whole essay on the parallels between these two artists but I'll leave that for another time.
The story abruptly shifts from blistering speed to total stasis as we return to the character Jim Bored. Jim Bored is a man who lives in a hole in the floor. He's introduced in volume 1 and used throughout as a humorous framing device with only witty word balloons escaping from his personal void. The sequence begins with an almost abstract exploration of the pure space of Jim Bored lair. The architectural sequences are almost reminiscent of the experimental strips of Blaise Larmee, an artist that is often compared with CF. Each volume of POWR MASTRS opens with a vague warning shot from the author and in this volume the words "I SEE YOU PEOPLE TRY TO BITE MY WORK - DISSAPOINTING - FOLLOW YOUR OWN STAR!" is inscribe on the TOC page, surely a reference to the controversial blog post Larmee wrote about CF's influence recently, which CF directly addresses as well in his interview for TAFFY HIPS #8. It's an interesting subtext throughout the volume with CF raising the spectre of the polemic surrounding his work, even more so considering how formalistically adventurous POWR MASTRS 3 is compared to the previous volumes.
CF seemingly takes us on a guided journey through his own stylistic spectrum in the sequences titled "Rhino's Antique Gravity Gun" and "The Seal Breaker's Ice Box!", both presented as "Jim Bored's Fantasy Classics". In these sequences CF uses Jim Bored to recount his reminiscences of entertainment which are presented as full-color episodes featuring the stripped-down naive style of CF's early work such as his KRAMER ERGOT 4 strip. It's a jarring contrast both visually and narratively compared with the fully evolved figure drawing of the main sequences in which CF almost resembles Steve Rude in economy and natural comics simplicity. The "Jim Bored's Fantasy Classics" sequences aren't the only time he goes completely off the reservation, at one point during a scene featuring Subra Ptareo in a self-confined sweat hut the sequence goes fully abstract in a selection that would fit neatly between the covers of Andrei Molotiu's ABSTRACT COMICS.
There is a third aside later in the volume, this time told from the perspective of Pico, the spritely collector of curiosities who always directly addresses the reader. This time she introduces us to a mechanism that you load with cassettes to experience entertainment, although it's not certain whether or not it's interactive like a Nintendo or passive like a VCR. Either way we are demoed a sequenced titled "Hang Airborg 11" which is highly action packed. It's the first time where the genre subtext of POWR MASTRS comes nakedly to the forefront in a semi-parody of action-adventure comics. The sequence ends with the gruesome disembowelment of Kang the Conquerer's long lost cousin. Oh yeah, let's not forget about the full color bondage and spanking scene in the middle of this volume which hit's all the NSFW high notes. As with volume 2, volume 3 continues the process of narrative decompression which at this point becomes comfortable to the reader. You stop asking yourself where we are going and just sit back and enjoy (although always with a twinge of nausea and arousal in your guts.) If you are to believe the clues in Sammy Harkham edited Simpsons Tree House of Horrors issue there will be at least 2 more volumes of POWR MASTRS and the next one will be yellow. I can't wait to see it.