Let’s get my favourite phrase out of the way in the first sentence and make the remark that Joe Decie’s new comic No Comply is pure language of comics magic, exploiting the singular tools of the form with dexterity and invention. What it isn’t, though, is the kind of fare that Decie fans are familiar with and may be expecting. That strange yet always effective hybrid approach of visual realism, autobiography and bizarre flights of fancy has been the foundation of his comics practice for many years. Here we have something very different – a sci-fi story set in an urban future, with no recognisable dialogue or narration, and a jaunty cartooning style that readers would never have guessed was Decie’s work had his name not been attached to the project.
No Comply is part of the digital comics line-up at this year’s Shortbox Fair and was funded with the help of the wonderful Koyama Provides initiative. Ostensibly, Decie’s story follows a day in the life of his unnamed protagonist as they skateboard through a cityscape that resembles our own concrete surroundings but is also full of anthropomorphic animals, robots, mutants and aliens. Our skateboarder lead navigates this world, weaving through its hustle and bustle before embarking on an altogether more cosmic trip through its public transport system, in an apparent quest for diversion and amusement…
With a main character whose slacker attitude and carefree spirit gives us an immediate perspective on this society-to-come, No Comply would already have been a fun futuristic romp. However, what elevates it to a more intriguingly experimental narrative is the element of sensory overload that Decie introduces to its pages. With the immediate visual components drawn in a busy black and white style, Decie overlays the action with red symbolic effects to denote motion, smell, sound, touch and even temperature.
It’s a clever technique that makes the careful reader slow down and intimately immerse themselves in the events of every panel. The kinetic movement of the skateboarder or the rhythmic vibrations of a bus, the smell of an unwashed armpit, the heat coming off a hot drink, and the overwhelming noises and sensations of a busy city street. Even dialogue is presented symbolically within speech balloons. No Comply rewards re-reading as our considerations shift from to appreciating narrative to considering how Decie is manipulating our interaction with the page in different and considered ways to evoke specific responses in his audience. This one is a must-buy from the Shortbox Fair offerings. You can pick up a digital copy here.
Joe Decie (W/A) Shortbox Fair, £4.00
Review by Andy Oliver