One look at the Futile Comics tumblr suggests that the author is more than just a run-of-the-mill sad sack cartoonist. “Visitors” is so bottled up with nebulous sorrow that it looks like it’s bleeding dirt, but strips like “Babel” play the prankster card when confronting life’s miseries. The more I read, the more I noticed strange details (like a hamburger with a hamburger face on its hamburger butt) dabbled between the parallel streaks of glee and gloom. All in all, it’s worth checking out, and the best of it reminds me of a more grounded KC Green.
Online offerings, as always, are kind of a mixed bag, so I oughta shift to the two short-form strips included in his new minicomic zine, Futile Comix No. 2, since that’s the issue that plunged me into this delightful ditch that I am calling the Centenosphere. Centeno sets the tone on the cover with a coiffed-up hamster doing his best Late 19th-Century Psychiatrist, with black holes for eyes. It’s cute, suggestive, and more than a little unnerving.
True to the Freudian getup, both of the stories contained in Futile Comix #2 contain oodles of psychological juice, working in ruminations on depression, anxiety, and gender identity—just to name what I got out of it. Centeno does a good job at keeping the subtext rich beneath each story’s narrations. In the first story, “Diamonds Are Forever,” he filters the beats of the story through the hamster Diamond’s mind. Poorly understood threats—from a mysterious malady to cloaked giants that sound oddly like human children—snowball into a single, suicidal ideation that proves, uh, futile to escape for poor Diamond.
If that plot summary sounds miserable, that’s because it is. But Centeno is smart to undercut the heaviness with stylized flairs of cuteness. Diamond, whether pensive, terrified, exhilarated, or wheezing out a chunk of petrified lung, is rendered grotesquely cute by his pitch-black gumdrop eyes. Every tiny, terrible emotion that he feels is really, really felt. The silhouette designs of his owner’s suffer by comparison; with so much of the story devoted to Diamond’s inner struggle, their plain, cartoony facial expressions came across as coy and distracting in visual and narrative terms.
All told, this gripe is a small water chestnut in the rich, tasty kung pao chicken plate called “Diamonds Are Forever.” But, as the saying goes, come for the hamsters and stay for the flaming island godheads, right? Because flaming godheads is literally what “The God That Wasn’t There,” perhaps among the Top 10 Most Depressing Genesis Myths I’ve ever read, has to offer.
Not-literally, it’s a divine fable that dishes up the human condition. But first: what if? What if, at the epicentre of reality, is a universe unmade by fear, anxiety, and squandered potential? What if gods got self-conscious? “The God That Wasn’t There” considers these tough questions vis a vis the eponymous god, a cross between a runic Easter Island skull and a Ghastly.
Compared to “Diamonds,” “God” is a much more straightforward allegory that benefits two tons from an unbound, aggressive visual palette. It’s an exaggerated style befitting of the creation of the world, full of fire without sacrificing clarity. Or irony! Of course, it would not be Futile Comix without irony, in this case of the self-reflexive kind. When the god is worried the most about its unfilled potential, it expresses creative impotence through luxurious exaggerations, exploding beyond traditional panel space, contorting the narration around its avatar. You are forced to feel the god’s massive stores of power upfront, culminating in an ending devastatingly anticlimactic.
For anyone who fancies themselves a creative, or has dealt with image issues in any form, or social anxiety, the list goes on, the tale is powerful, clear, and just a little too-close-to-home. No real laughs to be found there, that is just fine. The poetry of the art speaks for itself.
Maybe read it just before you go to bed and you need that little extra something to goose the restless spirits, or maybe read it when you’re in a bad-though-not-that-bad mood and could use a sick laugh, but basically just read Futile Comix in general. Futile Comix at its best, by tapping into the terrors that grind gods, monsters, and hamsters alike into futile catatonia, manages to hit that blend of existential dread and ironic resignation that few practitioners of the black comedy arts ever manage to get right.
(Request the Futile Comix zine at your local bookstore, comic store, or zine library! Or why don’t you just ask Mikey C. himself, why not?)