If there was one word I overused in reviews in 2016 (and there were undoubtedly more than just the one but for my fragile ego’s sake let’s restrict it to the singular) it was “oblique”. I applied it to comics that were deliberately vague in narrative intent, those where the audience was asked to fill in storytelling gaps, or to sequential art wherein the explicit was eschewed and the implicit was embraced.
It was the term that first sprang to mind when approaching this write-up on David Frankum’s The Wormgler but on reflection I’m not so sure it’s appropriate. Frankum’s 8-page minicomic – in all its tactile compact glory – seems less about making the reader work to piece together its intrinsic, objective meaning and more about asking them interact with its pages to take their own subjective truths from the visual metaphor of this beautifully designed series of nine-panel grids.
The “otherness” of the comic is neatly encapsulated in just its first page or so. A smartly dressed, bowler hat-wearing gentleman sends origami birds out into the world from the confines of his briefcase. They return with what will prove to be the instruments of his trade – a bountiful, squirming pile of worms. These will prove a vital resource when the Wormgler arrives at his next destination, as a life is changed forever and a portal into the secrets of the universe is opened…
Frankum’s meticulously crafted pages introduce us to an environment where heartbeat is horizon and where shape, perspective and pacing seem to take on greater substance with every re-reading. Carefully arranged geometry hints at thematic undertones and those key featured annelids seem so representative of both decay and rejuvenation. It all adds up to a lucid dream of a minicomic wherein subtext becomes dependent on the audience’s interconnectivity with events.
Is The Wormgler about spiritual rebirth? About the cycle of life? A meditation on our roles in the vastness of the universe perhaps? Or a simple homily on the kindness and generosity of others? I’m not sure and, further, I’m not sure it actually matters. The reader prepared to immerse themselves in the peculiar rhythm of this haunting yet oddly uplifting work will find their own significance in its delicately structured symbolism. Something of a layered comics curiosity, perhaps, but one that will entrance and delight in equal measure.
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