Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

100 Panels of Solitude

Posted by Don MacPherson on July 6th, 2009

The Deformitory original graphic novella
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Sophia Wiedeman
Publisher: Heart Monster Press
Price: $6 US

The folks at the Xeric Foundation, which provides grants for unknown or up-and-coming comics creators to produce new work, have a great eye for unusual and interesting fare, so when I get a chance to peruse the work of a Xeric recipient, I jump at the chance. Writer/artist Sophia Wiedeman sent along this cute, somewhat disturbing and definitely thought-provoking collection of unusual character studies. The meaning of each character’s journey of self-discovery isn’t always entirely clear, but they’re all engaging. I’d describe The Deformitory is something of a high-end, black-and-white mini-comic, but its digest-size format and the simple qualities of the artwork can’t hide the intelligence, empathy and creativity that abound on each on every page. Wiedeman’s cartoony and organic style, which employed to bring deformed or even grotesque characters to life, nevertheless instills in those figures beauty and vulnerability. The creator also explores different storytelling techniques, at times playing with a wordless approach and at others using bizarre dialogues to tell a story and expose a character’s true, inner self.

Haunted by a childhood vision of a glowing, magical unicorn in a secluded forest, a man leaves behind his life and constructs a home in those woods, awaiting the return of the mythical creature and the warmth it instilled in his heart. Beyond that forest is a shoreline, and beyond that, in a distant body of water is an island on which sits a tower. That tower is the Deformitory, a place where people who’ve been shunned by others due to their physical challenges and differences live out their lives away from the hurtful words and glances. However, in the end, the residents of the Deformitory prove to be their own worst enemies.

Wiedeman’s artwork elicits easy comparisons to the style of Brandon (King City) Graham, and it also put me in mind of Mark (Akiko) Crilley’s work. She employs a lot of soft curves in her depiction of not only the characters but the settings as well. There’s a simpler tone to her designs as well, and that further emphasizes an atmosphere of innocence that permeates the storytelling. That softer side to her work makes the harsher moments and developments seem all the more shocking when they emerge.

The unicorn story is the framing sequence for the book, and it’s unusual in that the main character, though he lives near it, doesn’t travel to the title locale. Nevertheless, the unicorn segments constitute a story with a clear moral. The main character abandons everything he holds dear in pursuit of the same wonder and magic he experienced when he glimpsed a unicorn as a child. It seems clear to me that Wiedeman is basically saying you can’t go home again. The unicorn seeker ends up missing out on so many other wonderful things in life. He’s so obsessed with the memory that he fails to create new ones. One could interpret the story to be a criticism of the tendency to focus on nostalgia in some aspects of pop culture.

The points the author makes in a couple of the other segments are pretty clear as well. The Heart Monster strip is a terribly cute commentary on the importance of moderation and the dangers of a lack thereof. The ugly mermaid sequence is one of the more attractive ones in the book, and its point about hypocrisy is biting and pleasantly avoids the clichés of what appears to be an ugly-ducking story at first. The longest narrative in the book is Dolores’s story, and its meaning is a little more elusive. Wiedeman’s story about a woman’s body betraying itself or herself might be about how people allow their injuries or illnesses to isolate them from others, or she may be saying something the potential for self-destruction that lies within us all. It’s challenging material and well worth a read.

Ultimately, isolation seems to be the recurring theme throughout the book, and the imagery –- an island, towers -– of the various settings would seem to reinforce that concept. I’d argue that Wiedeman is suggesting that the natural order of things is connection among individuals, that relationships and community are healthy while solitude represents deterioration and negativity. She importantly points that isolation is thrust upon some by others, but overall, it’s something that’s within our control, that while it’s easier to hide from pain, it also denies us rewards. 8/10

Note: For more information on this project and its creator, visit Sophia Wiedeman’s website.

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One Response to “100 Panels of Solitude”

  1. S Says:

    Thank you so much Don!