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Teratoid Heights by Mat Brinkman

Teratoid Heights by Mat Brinkman. Highwater Books, 2003. unpaginated (it’s 3/4″ thick), black and white, 5″ x 6″, $12.95.

Mat Brinkman is one of the founding “Fort Thunder” artists, which might mean something to you, and it might not. Either way, there is a certain opinion that the work is a kind of new wave of comics. Brinkman is often cited as the best of the bunch, or at least, the one where there’s a book I can easily get (Brian Chippendale’s, the other founding fellow, book never came out in the wake of Highwater Books’ closing down).

Teratoid Heights collects a bunch of Brinkman’s mini-comics, which were published over a few years, I think (none are dated). There is a clear difference in Brinkman’s skill among the various stories. Some at the end of the book, probably earliest chronologically, are very crude. All the stories share some qualities, such as the use of strange creatures/monsters as protagonists and the rough landscapes or underground settings they inhabit. The creatures move through their particular landscapes, exploring and meeting conflict. It is said that video games were a big influence on this style, and in an interview I read in The Comics Journal (#256 October 2003, the Fort Thunder issue), Brinkman mentions Dungeons & Dragons. The combination of these two are obvious in many elements of the work, from the strange monsters to the imaginary wilderness and dungeon areas to the way each story seems to follow the protagonist(s).

Brinkman’s layouts defy any conventional structure or grid. He uses few or many panels, as necessary, large or small. In “Flapstack”, a story that follows three creatures that look like a cross between Mickey Mouse’s gloves and the Pillsbury Doughboy, he fits upwards of forty panels to a page (consider that this book is only 5″ x 6″), mostly fit to the small size of his protagonists as they wander the narrow confines of dark passageways. These many panels allow more frequent transitions between actions, creating a closer sense of following the movements of the creatures.

The art has an odd appearance to it. The lines have a rough quality that make it look like they were drawn with some strange implement (a sharpened stick?). There are often a profusion of lines in the art that makes clear comprehension difficult. In “Flapstack” this is overcome by the direction of the lines. The dense shading goes in a single direction for different sections of the background to delineate walls, floor, columns, and changes in the direction of the passageways.

The stories themselves are of only minimal interest. It’s like watching someone play a video game or hearing about a D&D session–only really interesting if you are involved in it. The way the stories are told, particularly the intent focus on the protagonists, is the main interest for me. I think Brinkman’s more recent work has built on this method. His “Two Dudes” (online at the Fort Thunder page) adds a little more narrative, with dialogue, humor, and more interaction among the creatures as they move through a rather video game looking castle and some fantastic landscapes.