Monster Truck, by Shaky Kane. Wishbone Studio.
When I was nine I actually went to a monster truck rally, and it was at a place called the "Cow Palace", too. You had to wear earplugs because the motors were so loud and it was at an indoor arena where echoes boomed off the walls like crazy. It went on a little under two hours, about the length of a good action movie. At the end they had a demolition derby, where eight or ten Cadillacs got wheeled out into the middle of the dirt pit and the monster trucks destroyed them as utterly as possible. There was this weird "backstory" going where the announcers kept reminding everyone over the engine din that one of the drivers had stolen another driver's truck, and that the man who usually drove the Gravedigger was tied up in a back room somewhere. Everybody was screaming so loud the headache lasted into the next day. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Shaky Kane's comic Monster Truck mines much of the same visceral ground with an equal gaudy hunger. The story, such as it is, couldn't get much simpler: a big yellow monster truck, marked up with Japanese graffiti and driven by an impassive post-human observer, grinds across a desert landscape filled with strange apparitions spawned from the low, grimy side of pop culture. It's a slow descent into utter frenetic hysteria, rusted stunt cars giving way to dinosaurs, zombies, robots, superheroes, and carnival workers, often all on the same page. The big spotlight here is on Kane's art: the unyielding masses of thick Kirby outlines and worming Darrow detail, the straight-on blast of the bright pop art coloring, the obsessive texturing (rust, desert scree, rough hide) on everything. The reading experience mimics the titular truck's bumpy ride across its fantasmagorical landscape, with each line of narrative beating like a rusty nail pounded into knotty wood, each image's captivating big-screen power jostling against the excitement of turning the page and seeing what's next.
There's a formal conceit to Monster Truck, and it's a whopper. The digest-sized, horizontal-format book is made up solely of full-page spreads, one on every other page in sort of postcard-book style, each one interlocking with the last. Stretched end to end, the book's pages form an epic, thirty foot long panorama, encompassing the monster truck's entire drive through its trash-haunted wasteland. What Alan Moore and JH Williams twisted and groaned to pull off in Promethea, Kane achieves with the greatest of ease: this ride may bump and bang around, but once it starts, it never stops until it's finished. Stripped of panel borders (except for one inset, rearview mirror-ish view of the driver), the book also discards much of the artificiality of the comics form. The flow of time and space in Monster Truck is perfectly, breathtakingly continuous, not chopped up into frames and planed open with different angles. It's free, it's heady, it's the blue sky above and the yellow sands below for pages and pages. It's a whirl. More than any other comic I can think of, it moves.
Of course, the speed it moves at is left to the reader, and despite the flipbook format and spare narration I can't imagine whipping through this book at the speed one whips through say, a Frank Miller or Osamu Tezuka comic. Monster Truck is a joyride, pure and simple, and the scenery it rumbles through is second to none. The book's every page is a visual feast to be savored and savored and savored some more, with something -- a radiant color choice, a greasy sliver of linework, a bit of design madness, a nod to Kirby or Big Daddy Roth or Sprang -- always reeling you in to stay a while. The images veer from claustrophobic freakouts to sparse, dry monoliths, but the lurching rhythm never breaks, no one page outdoes another. They're all perfect just as they are. Quite literally, they're all one. This is comic book excitement in its most distilled, primitive form, that of "I wonder what he's gonna draw next?" Kane never disappoints, drawing strands from the detritus of three continents into the boiling cauldron of the whole.
As world-building its closest relative is Gary Panter's Dal Tokyo, which mines the same influences in a similar manner, and also exploits a similar formal technique. But where Panter repackages his found images in ratty linework and Renaissance literature, Kane lets them bang off the pages unadulterated, less concerned with refurbishing them as with simply presenting them in all their original trashy glory. It's very Pop, Warholian even, but Kane never loses the thread of comics, the rich sequentiality of the images, the narrative sense of an entire strange world passing by you, and where Warhol bounces your eye off the surface of his pictures, Kane's run deep enough to drown in. After the giant eyeballs start erupting out of the crusty desert earth on page 10 it's more or less like nothing else exists, and after the "Mars Attacks!" bubblegum card Martians arrive on page 30, you'll wish nothing else did. Like I said, there's a world on these pages, and it's the world we lose ourselves in when reality gets too much or too boring. Batman, Transformers, Frankenstein, Barbie -- they all find their way into the landscape, and it's little wonder that Monster Truck carries the combined transportative power of them all.
It's a seemingly effortless fulfillment of a goal that seems to be concerning comics more and more of late. With the past three decades' surfeit of boring "real-world" based comics having reached the point of total failure, the interesting artists these days are choosing to explore other worlds, weirder worlds, places to get lost in. Monster Truck feels most of a piece with the "environmental exploration" comics of today's avant-garde, books like Brian Ralph's Cave-In, CF's Powr Mastrs, Olivier Schrawen's Chromo Congo, or the aforementioned Dal Tokyo. Like those comics, this thing both bulldozes through and glories in the creation of its own environment; but unlike those explicitly underground works, Kane's environment is not so dependent on the heretofore unseen. Monster Truck is a cut-up tour through everything we already have, a pop culture junkie's explosion into wall-to-wall art. We've seen this all before -- just not with so much spirit, not so wonderfully, discordantly, harmoniously thrown together. The world in a blender, all the tastiest parts shaken, rattled, and rolled into a technicolor mind-warp.
In this respect, Monster Truck most closely resembles that greatest of comics: Krazy Kat. With its ever-shifting desert landscapes it places its cowboy boots directly into Herriman's footprints, and its mishmash of cultural toy-totems is the closest our disparate, newly globalized comics world has come to Krazy's distinctly American melting pot of Shakespearean, Yiddish, Ebonic, Irish, who knows what other kinds of patois. But this is the future, after all, a world of movies and TV -- and comics, and comics -- and what Herriman did with words Kane does in pictures, sampling Goth horror, superhero big beat, Japanese techno from a monster truck mixing deck. This is modern comics writ large (like, thirty feet large): a kaleidoscope of pictures and words and ideas for the taking. A past that gives birth to the present. And from here -- the future. The truck rolls on...