In Fütchi Perf, Kevin Czap takes us on a thought-provoking trip to harmonious near-future Cleveland, where cultural consensus has created what looks like a progressive paradise.
Whenever I try to explain to my cat Sid (or anyone else who stands still for long enough) just what it is that makes comics THE BEST art form, my addled old noggin usually ends up orbiting the idea of style.
At the risk of stating the bleedin’ obvious, the style of a comics author provides the entire environment in which their story can take place, like the water in a fishtank. They might still be fiddling about with headsets in Silicon Valley, but it’s hard to believe they’ll ever come up with a form of virtual reality more immersive than a REALLY good comic.
I’m not just talking about the physical environment in which the characters exist – what those film lads would call the mise en scene. I’m talking about how a creator (or creative team) can draw upon the potentially infinite range of stylistic possibilities to create a kind of mindspace on the page.
And to enter that space – and that story – you have to leave your IRL perceptions behind and surrender yourself into the vision of another.
That kind of psychic assimilation is key to the experience of a work like Kevin Czap’s Fütchi Perf – an oblique suite of near-future vignettes sequenced together in a way redolent of an album. (Czap even goes as far as describing it as having been “recorded, mixed and mastered”.)
However, Czap does himself and his medium a slight disservice with his musical analogy, because getting back to my earlier prattle (and, after all, it is about me), this is pure comics: a world of feeling and experience rendered in a way unique to the form.
The stories aren’t all strictly linked, but they’re framed within a sequence suggesting a near-utopian future – maybe the ‘future perfect’ that the title verbally suggests. This cosy, diverse and accepting world, embodied in the city of Cleveland, is a progressive wonderland where “All the right things are winning”.
Cleveland is now a city where your favourite bands always play, you pick up grants to support your artistic endeavours, your friends all live round the corner and you make new BFFs almost instantly, in an atmosphere of openness and bonhomie reminiscent of the Ecstasy-fuelled days of yore.
That utopian vibe is embodied in the sense of a socially and artistically creative community, epitomised at the end of the book in a vivid and pleasing metaphor of planting seeds and seeing what grows.
Going back to the question of style, Czap delivers all this with a highly individual technique that you’d probably call ‘cartoony’, defined and driven by a bold bubblegum palette that reinforces the poppy feel of this brave new world.
The crowded pages, with characters threatening to burst out of panels, give the book the feeling of a nightclub where they’ve let too many people in, with the accompanying mix of buzz and claustrophobia.
However, on a second read (and this is a book that certainly takes more than one visit to unpack properly), I began to wonder if there isn’t perhaps a serpent in this paradise. Would it really be the most desirable outcome if the carefully curated echo chamber of your social media circles became the new hegemony?
Running through these stories is the notion of the ‘Kid Mind’ – a government-funded think-tank that acts like a supercharged iteration of social media, directing cultural traffic and enabling “the emergence of a benevolent class of youth leaders”. It might create a sense of harmony, but does that come at the cost of individuality and experimentation?
For all the sense of community across these stories, there’s a sense that social isolation will never truly be banished. As expressed in at least a couple of the episodes, there’ll always be loneliness in a crowd. At one stage a young woman “tries to keep up” with the social whirl of a nightclub, but eventually she finds herself metaphorically drowning in a graphic sea of white-noise chatter.
Pushing too hard to extract Fütchi Perf‘s meaning would be a bit like breaking the proverbial butterfly on a wheel. While its elusiveness can sometimes be a tad frustrating, it’s a pure example of an artist creating their own bubble universe and executing an engrossing piece of work that flags up the immersive potential of comics.
Kevin Czap will be selling Fütchi Perf and a variety of other goodies (including Ley Lines and Puppyteeth #4) at SPX (Bethesda, MD) this weekend. Find him at Table N13 and tell him Broken Frontier sent you!