On those occasions where I am diverted by dreamy deliberations on how I would spend an ever elusive major lottery win my thoughts are drawn not just to which talented small press artists I would put into print but also what past, long out-of-print work I would offer to revive for new audiences to appreciate. As an exercise this is, of course, a largely pointless digression. There’s more chance of a Comicsgater tweeting “Fair enough, we are a hate movement after all” than me winning millions on a lottery draw. But it’s fun to consider.
One of those past projects that would definitely have been on that list is Dan White’s Terminus, a series of bizarre and often unsettling one-panel cartoons that ran on the Mindless Ones site some years back. Fortunately in this case I can scratch that title off that hypothetical publishing schedule as White recently collected the best of Terminus into a handy pocket diary-sized hardcover subtitled ‘Rabbit Season, Duck Season’.
Some years back I briefly wrote about Terminus in my first Broken Frontier review of White’s acclaimed Cindy and Biscuit series. Something I have always felt about White’s work is that he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his constant narrative experimentation. Cindy and Biscuit, for example, has been an ongoing experiment in presentation and styles, playing with both storytelling structure and with how format can change the reading experience.
This is similarly true with Terminus because while each entry is superficially a one-gag cartoon the reality is that for all the surreal comedy and dark visual humour there are whole worlds bound up in each image. Questions abound, surrounding narratives lurk just off panel, imaginations are stimulated by the wider unseen picture. Hopeless super-heroes, afterlife fast food chains, closet monsters, Lovecraftian horror in everyday situations, and botched cloning experiments all hint at entire comics that could be spun off from these scenarios. Indeed, an early appearance of White’s monster-hunting characters Cindy and Biscuit here is testament to that potential.
With a collection like this, of course, it’s difficult to analyse the individual cartoons without wrecking the joke in advance but what really stands out is the range of emotional reactions White elicits from his readers in these pages. There’s the deep melancholy of the young boy with the remnants of his dead father, the jaw-dropping extrapolated consequences of the morning after a heavy night out, the visual metaphor of a haunting Monday morning feeling, and the violent slapstick of a teleportation class gone awry.
Throughout, White’s lively cartooning does much of the heavy lifting, saying so much in a character’s expression and their visual characterisation about their unlikely predicament. Terminus is a kind of delinquent Far Side with an ASBO and, as the holidays approach, it’s the perfect self-contained seasonal gift for those who appreciate their humour with a distinctly disquieting edge.
Dan White (W/A) • Milk the Cat Press, £9.00
Review by Andy Oliver