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07 March 2008

Brad McGinty's WYSTERIA

Wysteria issues 1 through 4 by Brad McGinty.

5.5 x 7.5''. Color covers. Black and white interiors. Aprox. 24 pages each. $3 each.

The Wysteria (or Wisteria) plant can bee seen all over Snellville, Georgia, the former hometown of cartoonist and animator Brad McGinty (and the former home of Me McSelfty). It is a climbing and spreading plant and without the pretty purple/blue flowers, it would just be a bothersome weed. Apparently, the flowers of some vines are edible and can be used to make wine. However, some are toxic and if you eat them it will cause diarrhea, abdominal pain and vomiting. Wysteria is also the name of a street in Snellville. It also means something to the fans of some TV show but really, who watches TV?

Brad McGinty may have taken any or none of this into account when he came up with the idea to title this mini comics series Wysteria. I don't know. I never asked him. My first and only thoughts about the title were that wysteria is a whimsical kind of word and that I expected it to be a whimsical kind of comic. What I do know is that in the first few pages of the first issue the main character, a nameless anthropomorphic bird guy who I will take the liberty of calling Bradley because (a) Brad's name is Brad and (b) the bird guy looks exactly like this kid I went to grade school with who's last name was Bradley... whew, that's a long sentence. I'm winded already. Anywho, anthropomorphic bird guy, now called Bradley, begins his adventure by placing a flower on the side of the road on his way home. Is it a wysteria flower? I don't know. Maybe I'll ask Brad when I see him at
Fluke. So, Bradley goes home and finds a note from his neighbor on his door. Bradley looks at his neighbor's door with scorn and proceeds to go this his own apartment. Bradley then plants himself in front of the tube, eats his dinner from a carry out bag and promptly has an attack of what appears to be abdominal pain and vomiting. Maybe some diarrhea too but Brad spares us the horror of seeing that drawing.

Bradley's life seems pretty miserable. There is an allusion to a pet that is no longer around. There is a stack of notes, presumably from the neighbor, that Bradley has neglected to do anything about. Bradley tries to go to bed but cannot sleep so he gives up on his solidarity and decides to pay his neighbor a visit. Bradley becomes even more disheveled when he notices that his neighbor has a flower just like the one he placed by the road earlier. Bradley is drawn to the plant and breathes in it's aroma. This triggers a near death sort of vision quest and thus the adventure begins.

Bradley suffers a grotesque death but sheds his skin and is reborn as a primal man/totem hybrid.

Over the first four issues of this series, our hero will embark on a fantastic journey through intestine/brain like TV monitor jungles, ancient ruins, exotic forests, ominous temples and pits of despair. It becomes a very primal kind of story. I don't mean that it is primal in a basic or simple way. The story is quite imaginative. What I mean is that Brad presents a very Jungian kind of primeval/archetypal world and tells the story, not in a minimal or simple way but in a pure and unburdened way.

One of the obvious devices Brad uses to create this purity is to abandon dialog.
The entire series is presented without words. I can't speak for Brad as to why he made this choice but I think the result is an emphasis on the symbolic nature of the storytelling. Silent comics can be a novelty and I often think their creators choose that path just to see if they are up to the challenge of telling a story without the crutch of narration. With Wysteria, Brad exceeds the challenge and I really can't imagine how dialog would enhance the comic. Brad is creating a world here that is an abstraction of reality allowing the reader to translate every scene and even every panel based on their own intuitions, free of being directed what to think by dialog or narration. The abstract world and the heaviness of the silence force a more intimate connection with the character and the story if for no other reason than that you are forced to think more about each panel's meaning than you would be if you had the context clues of text. Silent comics can be a challenge to follow but Wysteria has the right combination of pacing and dynamic art to keep you engaged.

The art is fantastic and is probably what has kept me reading and re-reading it. Brad has a huge range. Scenes range from the lushness of Disney's Snow White to the psychadelic madness of Zap era Robert Williams or R. Crumb. Brad's inks are bold and fluid but can also be appropriately abrasive during scenes of violence. There is a consistency in the characters and the world he creates here that you seldom find in mini comics.

At this point in the review, I will put on my arm chair psychologist's hat and analyze the themes that dominate this comic series during Bradley's odd vision quest. (Editor's note: The armchair psychologist's hat is an orange boller with a brown feather. It smells of pipe tobacco and does not exist.) The most obvious theme is birth and rebirth. This repeated metamorphosis in the series is often heralded by floral imagery. The relation between the flowers and sex or vaginal birth is about as subtle as a Georgia O'Keeffe painting so I didn't need the psychologist's hat to catch on to that. The theme I'm more interested in is the character's inclination toward isolation and self destruction. At the beginning of the story, it is obvious that Bradley is a loner. He has lost a pet at some point and there is sadness there and it is apparent he would rather avoid any potential future sadness by ignoring his neighbor. After his transformation into the totem thing and his entrance into the abstract vision quest world, Bradley befriends a lizard/bug creature but his defensive instincts cause him to lash out at the creature.

But this is a story about transformation and rebirth so Bradley gets chances to redeem himself. With each chance he becomes a better friend to the creatures around him. After several rebirths, Bradley eventually becomes a much more enlightened character even taking on noble and heroic qualities in his fight against a demon/wizard/priest character.

Not to turn all Joseph Campbell on you but I think this series works as a substantial study in storytelling itself. Brad has broken down the hero's quest in to its most essential archetypal elements. It is almost a story about storytelling itself. What is a story? The character/situation starts out one way and ends up another. The end. The character exists and then changes. Failure then redemption. Birth then rebirth. It make sense that our hero in Wysteria transforms into a sort of all-culture all-religion looking tribal mask totem creature because the story itself is about stripping away the charcter's flaws and reducing the character to his purest/primitive form while the storytelling is a study in the most essential basics of visual storytelling. The establishing visual and then the changed visual. And aganin to clarify, I'm not at all saying that the story or the storytelling are simple, on the contrary there is a lot to look at and think about here. I've read these comics several times and take something different from them each time. Purity is the word that most often comes to mind.

I'm told that Brad plans to complete this story with issue number six and I have no doubt that the entire story will eventually be collected as a graphic novel. Still, I suggest that every mini comic fan try and get their own copies of the individual issues. Each issue is a very attractive book on it's own. Brad uses a nice three color pallet for each cover. He uses color photocopying over nice paper stock to appropriate the look of a screen printed cover without the inconsistencies and messiness of screen printing. The cover design and art are very strong. I'm hard pressed to pick a favorite cover.

You won't find many mini comics or comics in general that look better or feel better in your hands than these books. Perfect size, attractive covers, nice bold printing on the interiors... Brad McGinty knows how to make mini comics. He also knows how to pack them with quality content. Issues one, two and four all include some great supplemental standalone comedy comics that showcase Brad's range. These comics are very different from the tone of the Wysteria story so I'm not sure if they would show up in an eventual Wysteria graphic novel. Either way, they add to the value of owning these as individual mini comics. (Issue one includes one of my favorite of Brad's stories, Millionaire Hobo in: Days of Future Cashed.)

Brad McGinty has made a lot of great mini comics in a short amount of time. I highly suggest you visit his site. I know the site is still semi-under construction so if you don't see a link to buy his comics, just send him an email. Brad is not only a cartoonist and comic maker but he is also an animator and regularly posts some very interesting behind the scenes samples of his many projects. It is definitely worth a look.

Your best pal ever,
Shannon Smith

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