Hepatic Portal collects seven short stories by Emix Regulus, a creator whose work you may be familiar with from anthologies like the free street press paper Off Life or acclaimed sci-fi compilation Decadence. The immediate striking impression from her comics is their visual density. Not simply in terms of the busy layout of every page but also the intricacy of each panel. That complexity of presentation also echoes the slightly oblique nature of Regulus’s storytelling because these are comics that have a mesmerisingly mindbending quality to them.
Take the opener ‘The Allotment’ (right) which focuses on a group of self-aware potatoes, some of whom are developing the ability to transcend their physical forms and manifest on another realm of reality… much to the chagrin of their less ambitious and rather querulous counterparts. It’s a wittily paced piece of apparently gratuitous weirdness that nevertheless has something of note to say about stagnation and the condemnation of ambition. ‘Professional Phagocyte’ is another tale with an unlikely anthropomorphised protagonist, as we follow the titular bacteria-consuming cell as it patrols the body looking for threats to its host and exchanging rhyming repartee with the other denizens of the bloodstream at the same time.
‘The Ark’ (below left) is Hepatic Portal’s longest entry at seven pages, and was the most intriguing story for me in the last issue of Decadence where it also saw print. It’s another example of the creator’s ability to turn biology into storytelling environment; a science fiction parable that constantly shifts its viewpoint from the macro to the micro. ‘The Ark’ is the issue’s highlight for me; a stunningly deft manipulation of the unique opportunities inherent in the panel-to-panel comics narrative, in terms of both its ever expanding sense of space and the passage of time .
Indeed what’s so fascinating about Regulus’s storytelling throughout Hepatic Portal is her aptitude for telling stories that take place simultaneously on different levels of the same reality. ‘This Record Will Save You from Yourself’ (above centre) – the tale of a mail order self-help record that purges the body of emotional malaise – switches perspective continuously from the protagonist to the inner workings of his body. There are smaller elements of this too in ‘Whyballs’ (above right), a moral object lesson in the perils of upgrading the human experience which communicates its message with a deadpan flourish.
Hepatic Portal is an investigation into our how we shape our perceptions of the world around us, a reminder of the comparative insignificance of our egos within the wider expanses of reality, and a conscientious objector to the practice of decompression in comics. A truly distinctive and intuitive use of the possibilities of the comics page.
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