Sunday, February 7, 2010


by Marian Churchland

Marian Churchland first came on my radar when she did art for three issues of Richard Starking's comic Elephantmen. Her approach, especially in her first issue of the book, was a real breath of fresh air. Somewhere in that issue or the one after it, Starking mentioned that Churchland was working on an OGN called Beast.

When the book came out towards the end of last year, it received a fair amount of praise, and I added it to my list of books to read. I'm quite glad that I did. It's a very unique comic.

Colette is an aspiring artist and sculptor, and receives, through her father/agent a commission to sculpt a portrait of a mysterious gentleman out of a huge block of Carrera marble. When she arrives at the house where she is to work, she quickly realizes that things there are very strange. There is an older woman named Roz, who seems to be looking after the place. She is taken into the room where the hunk of marble sits, and meets Beast, her employer. Beast is never fully explained - his face is not just kept in the shadows, but seems to be made of shadow. He is evidently very old - he tells stories from his life in 17th century Italy - but little about him is ever explained. The book follows Colette through the completion of the work, and for about a week after that.

In many ways, this comic reminds me of a Paul Auster novel, in the way in which Colette seems to just accept the strangeness that has entered her life, and the ease with which she abandons her own identity, not even bothering to return to her apartment until the work is finished. She easily accepts that her identity is subsumed into the work, and finds more meaning there than she had in her previous existence; the problem being, of course, that all such work must come to an end.

Churchland's art is very nice. She shades each page in a single, washed-out colour, and pays close attention to background details everywhere accept in the room serving as Colette's studio. Her Beast (as he wishes to be called) is mysterious, yet never menacing or sinister. As a debut work, this book is a marvel.

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