REVIEWS

Procyon II

What a strange little comic book this is. Threatening and abstruse, Karissa Sakumoto's tale of paranoid flight through a retro-futuristic metropolis evokes a very specific set of influences whose popularity has improbably crested over the past decade: Heavy Metal2000AD, and the dark, violent corners of VHS anime imports. It's what Sakumoto does with those influences that makes their work feel novel, a cold and lonely satellite orbiting a small planet that itself lies far from the star at the heart of current comics' aesthetic gestures.

Procyon II opens with its unnamed protagonist awakening from sleep, suddenly unable to understand her surroundings, situation, or even language itself. Pursued by a series of strange, inhuman beings, she navigates a surrealistic cityscape that offers only further terror, before the collapse of her physical strength leads her to an enigmatic moment of transcendence. It's an intriguing fragment of narrative that doesn't really begin or end, recalling comics like Tharg's Future Shocks or Paul Pope's Heavy Liquid, works that don't really proceed as much as they establish a setting and then simply riff. But the playful, self-aware exhibitions of narrative ingenuity that characterize so many short sci-fi comics are completely absent from Sakumoto's book. Instead, there is simply the momentum of prey at bay, the chemical sweat of discomfort. It's not a pleasant read.

What pleasure there is to be had from the book is in its visuals. The cartoonist most readily evoked by Sakumoto's pixel-art panels is Russian retro-horror master Uno Moralez, but where his labor-intensive work strives endlessly to create perfect, shimmering surfaces, Sakumoto is a much rawer artist. Their work dives deeply into the haunting void of lo-res computer graphics, with basic geometric shapes warped out of proportion into serrated monoliths that menace the distended, gummy figures scuttling beneath them. Splatters of digital fuzz cling to every image, sometimes providing crude rendering shadows, sometimes just an extra layer of visual noise for character and reader alike to struggle through. It's like seeing the twinkling, techno-utopian backdrops of classic cyberpunk anime after a few weeks under siege by a computer virus, or something an algorithm exposed only to the purposeful primitiveness of heta-uma manga might spit out. Floating World's oversized presentation of the work at magazine trim size is essential: this is art best considered as the sum of its building blocks. It drips with ugly fascination.

Comparatively, the impact of Sakumoto's narrative is light - but that hardly feels unintentional. With little for readers to hold onto beside the connecting thread of a chase sequence whose antagonists are rarely visible, it's all the easier to get lost in the icy void of the comic's environment. "Dreamlike" is overused as a descriptor for unconventional narratives, but Sakumoto's work here absolutely earns it. A full page of black lightly dusted with white pixels provides a spontaneous pivot for the narrative here; a terrifying image is frozen and slowly zoomed into there. Toward the end the book's unnamed protagonist becomes aware of the somnambulant nature of her journey, like a dreamer approaching the return to consciousness. "I begin to wonder if those thoughts are really mine, or just fragments of the Mass Dream in which the city is a collective projection," she muses before a confrontation with her own reflection ends the reverie (and the book). There's no explanation of that line, or anything else here for that matter. But you still keep thinking about it once it's over.   

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One Response to Procyon II

  1. This comic sounds compelling – I’m very curious to read it. The art gives me the impression of a low resolution, enlarged scan of a high contrast photocopy of an inky hand-drawn page. An intriguing look.

    One of the benefits of reading the Journal is discoveries like this. I’ve been reading Seneca for a number of years now, and I’m glad he’s contributing to TCJ these days. He’s an articulate writer with a reliably interesting perspective.

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