#68 Carla Speed McNeil’s Aboriginal Sci-Fi Graphic Series FINDER: A Review–Guest Blog by Noah Meernaum

Outlined routes towards discovering and conversantly addressing Carla Speed McNeil’s graphic series Finder.

Panel from Finder: Sin-Eater, Issue 9: Artist/writer: Carla Speed McNeil, Lightspeed Press, March 1998

One inspired comic maker, Carla Speed McNeil, who began self-publishing Finder through her own imprint of Lightspeed Press in 1996, has been ardently continuing to develop this ongoing graphic series since 2005 as a webcomic. The creative commitment McNeil has applied toward the progressive formation of Finder has been appreciably recognized receiving a Lulu Award in 1997 and numerous Ignatz Awards leading to several Eisner nominations since 2001 1 In transitioning her successive work to a digital domain, McNeil has continued to draw critical accolades while expanding readers’ awareness within this worldly field, and in 2009, Finder was duly awarded an esteemed Eisner for ‘Best Digital Comic’. Topically, McNeil has accepted a representative offer from one of the foremost comic book publishers in the United States, and her prolific graphic saga will soon be widely republished in chronicle volumes by Dark Horse Comics.

Initially, my personal route toward accessing McNeil’s estimable series was through her webcomic, where I became quickly absorbed by Finder’s current story arc that was presently underway entitled “Torch”. Though I’m a constant reader of independent and self-published comics who endeavors to comprehensively cover many alternative subjects, McNeil’s commendable graphic saga had slipped by my supposed conversant attention. This tardy notice has not lessened the significant impact of my first exposure that promptly fired an awakening involvement in McNeil’s intriguing comic.

My late discovery of Finder, presents a dilemma with how I should present it to the new reader. At once there is an express inclination to enthusiastically endorse the earned praise deservedly awarded to Finder and urge new readers to promptly delve into its current contents. Conversely, as opposed to starting with its current arc “Torch”, which has a very evolved storyline at this point in the comic, I thought perhaps it would rather benefit recent arrivals to begin where the Dark Horse reissues do with “Sin-Eater.”

My eventual decision, however, is to expressly involve this review starting off with “Torch,” partly because I want to express how McNeil’s current arc contributes to revealing her constructive storytelling process. Although McNeil’s graphic renderings at this inceptive period appear upon first impression lightly or roughly formed, there is much elaborate substance to be considerably absorbed. This critical review of “Torch” will refer to past issues touching upon seminal characters and conductive topics upon which McNeil has intricately interlaced through early storyarcs in Finder so that prospective participants are not overly confused.

McNeil has described Finder as “Aboriginal SF” and “Torch” diversely depicts the composite relations that populate this extensive fictional world that she has elaborately portrayed and stirringly develops. In past interviews McNeil has stated that Finder has evolved from being an aboriginal detective story to its incarnation as presented in “Sin-Eater” as a storyline influenced by mythic go-betweens and indigenous scouts or spirit walkers in a multigenerational narrative. 2

“We came from the outside…” 3

At the introduction of “Torch” a traveling group of people are portrayed entering an interior mega-city domed by vast ceilings. Their first encampment inside an artificially maintained park is relocated because they had consumed the scenic swans that- unbeknownst to them- were property of the ruling Queen.

As the families are further directed into the subjacent levels of this labyrinthine metropolis, a lack of sufficient currency to feed their transporting animals causes them to have to eat them to survive, thereby stranding them in this alien megalopolis. With spare strokes McNeil manages to convey much emotive force in “Torch’s” forward introduction around compelling influences for people remaining or settling upon a certain place within prosperous cities that can enticingly capture entire generations with its prospective promise.

This relatable passage is accordingly recollected from the memories of a young boy who poignantly reflects, “What I can’t remember-I took from dreams”. Such sparse lines succinctly rendered by McNeil send a reverberating message to this reader, sounding out about the recollection of experience and how it is often commingled of fact and fantasy. These poetical descriptions deftly placed at the prologue of “Torch” by McNeil appear to be no random notes or casual denotations and announce a resounding message about the type of story she is telling.

McNeil presents the city in the unknown collective sense, as the families being viewed are at this starting part largely unfamiliar and nameless. This initial contact for the new arrival into Finder without an informed introduction heightens the participation of the reader from passive observer to sensate respondent. This insightful setup is not wholly original to the art of storytelling, but McNeil’s skill in conveying this information calls for considerate attention.

The explanation behind the title Finder is thoughtfully inset by McNeil in this re-fluent prelude: in one of the inserted scenes, a group of eager children catch fireflies that subsequently turn out to be biotechnological constructs that attach themselves to the surrounding power grid and sprout into multi-media towers (Fig. 1). McNeil’s delicate handling of this revelatory transformation—the “finding” of it by the readers and characters alike– is quite impressive, as these continual perceptual shifts appear to be more than mere comic gadgetry or inventive quips and are instead intentionally woven into the fabric of the story.

Fig. 1 Click for comic link.

Though all too often comic creators fall flat after laying such subtly pervasive tones, McNeil’s marked prose is attentively arranged throughout “Torch”. Her shifting display of language appears in resonant correlation and this continually echoes to the names of main characters, such as “Torch’s” budding finder Jack Kavka or Jackdaw- whose name also bears similarity to Kafka. McNeil’s interchangeable description towards “Torch’s” foremost bearer thereby craftily recalls the mutable aspects associated with many fabulous metamorphic figures and endless mythological Tricksters. Here again, McNeil’s purposeful textual interplay is shrewdly called up, choicely remarking upon certain ongoing associations that are impressionably recalled from storied characters.

Paired with Jack’s development is the introduction of Rachel Lockhart, who is a recurring character that has advanced from McNeil’s inductive Finder story “Sin-Eater” where she was portrayed as a child (Fig.3). The balancing uncertainty with Jack reflects to Rachel as she is of a younger generation of her purported exclusive clan, the Llaverac, who are intersexual (the males while cultivating prominent breasts have retained their retractable penises) and are expected to marry within their select kin to raise the limited bloodline. Rachel’s mother Emma broke with this tradition by marrying a man from the Medawar clan, and thus Rachel was considered to be a ‘cull’ born of dual parentage who advanced to a duchess, yet is still uncertainly held by her peers and elders who hold prominent positions in the central city of Anvard. 4 Into this familial number Rachel appears to be poised to accepting moneyed contributions for her hand and due support from her respective people although it evidently pains her to resort to these obliging steps.

This all sounds quite melodramatic or quaint and perhaps through common direction it would be. Fortunately, McNeil though setting up an expected arrangement in “Torch” rather turns this hokey refrain all around through abrupt changes, dreamy jags, sudden pops and odd rifts.

A unique ‘mother of invention’ McNeil shows the upcoming generation of finders curiously flickering about “Torch” in a giddy overturning that exposes the erratic and frenetic structure of the fabricated city that speaks to unveiling the concrete illusions that often resides in a conscious reality. 5 Reported by the ample portrayals of this broad band are anthropomorphic enclaves, sibilant lectures by advanced beings (Laeskes) who are sometimes mistaken as dinosaurs, virtual zombies, and zany pageants.

The telling adaptation that is transpiring in “Torch” presents an extraordinary reach where McNeil is aspiring toward a unique narrative ambition.centered around personal revelations, gripping compacts, and revolting double takes that play into the theme of how tightly held beliefs may constrict and odd appearances be grossly mistaken.

Humor is also ever present in “Torch” through overt and underlying measures often punctually rendered that frequently openly rip the dividing curtain or ‘fourth wall’ between creator and audience. This is particularly pronounced in the character Jack’s hungry demand for an explicit diagram of his girlfriend Fia’s vague description of her pot-belly condition and chilled offering (Fig, 2).

Fig. 2 Click for comic link.

Of further playful poignancy is McNeil’s affective appearance of her absorbing man- Jaeger Ayers, the sinuous “Sin-Eater”- who has ranged from hirsute punk to clipped hunk as his bold stare combined with his restive movement, has from the first story of Finder made the character a compelling figure. (Fig.3).

Panel from Finder: Sin-Eater. Artist/writer: Carla Speed McNeil, Lightspeed Press. Jaeger depicted in his younger days, in a telling relation to Rachel.

Aware of this attraction, McNeil could have easily followed in the formulaic footsteps of certain comic creators who shamelessly flaunt their flawed hero baring his tortured soul while he is selflessly drawn to aid the less fortunate in swift resolution. In contrast, McNeil has consciously refigured the role of Jaeger from the molded, nameless outcast, imbuing the character with individual quirks and obvious wear from a doubtful coexistence. Being alert to the reliance on a repeating character to save the day, McNeil has wisely portrayed Jaeger in staggering stages where his manifestation is more exiguous, sometimes absurdly comic or undecidedly resolute as a wishful fantasy.

In “Torch” he pops up behind Rachel (apropos as he has past connections with her) and her lack of surprise blamed from an awakening state turns to a volley of descriptions round Jaeger’s changed pate and a listing of his un-redeeming features presumed as a self-imposed warding. Jaeger appears in “Torch” as a bearer or guide (a role that McNeil continues to slip around the character) who seems to have some foresight and transmits back matter regarding the former era stated as the “Pre-Interregum”.

The “ju-ju” man, Jaeger, imparts this recollectively and in bound manuals that reference the previous builders to fuel Jack’s “mekanikeh’” drive, perhaps toward dismantling the dysfunctional dome enveloping Anvard. 6 That the deteriorating structure encompassing the city is either in neglected disrepair or purposefully omitting repressive charges is up in the air waiting to be resolved.

There is a visible strand that McNeil winds throughout “Torch” that detectably draws from the retrofitted designs and trappings frequently taken as outward displays of adaptive wear worn or tinkered with by ‘steampunks’ such as goggles and top hats-with a key line placed around a difference engine (Fig.4).

Fig 4. Click for comic link.

This familiar material as McNeil presents it in a knowing recognition of its past and present entanglements is rendered toward a deeper relevance than mere surface displays and are more finely inset as a recurrent thread turned with sound intent. By the combination of the puckish and striking writing, “Torch” questions the looping replay of the past, as seen in particular the passage portraying the “Preincarnated Nineteenth Century.”

McNeil represents this exacting influx in an outward description that pushes past the transpicuous aspects of steampunk harkening back to its contentious mixture that often stirringly disrupted any common conceptions held that would certainly contain such fiction.

All of this exorbitant matter might be concluded as an indigestible lump formed from an incoherent mess, and for those who read it that way, McNeil has hilariously trumped that reasonable belief fed off of compliant comics in given portions by the prescient reply that is uproariously thrown towards the later chapter of “Torch” (Fig. 5).

Fig. 6 Click for comic link.

There is a persistent awareness conveyed in “Torch” of pervasive cultural impositions or restricting views that may arise at any time. For McNeil’s cultural references extend the insular referential outlines often set in comics and audaciously reaches into and onto further- or as it repeatedly referenced- past recognized forms that are meaningfully presented. While McNeil is linking “Torch” to literary lines, it is pertinent how she is drawing from traditional oral and pictorial traditions along with the collaged elements of a comic (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6 Click for comic link.

That she is purposefully addressing these accrued cultural impressions in the dubious form of a comic (web and print) is a deliberate statement as to the imaginable potential towards her chosen means of conveyance. This imperative cultural integration utilizing a long-form sequential series is not without precedent in independent comics within the U.S. It’s not surprising to find that one of McNeil’s singular influences is given as Gilbert Hernandez, who has intimately raised many multicultural generations through his populous graphic relations that spring around or grow out of the fictive village of Palomar. 7

Likewise, McNeill’s series attentively revolves around intricate cultural dynamics that offer various directional courses and project numerous views turned about her ongoing relations in Finder’s complex world. For all the weighty content that McNeil bundles up in “Torch,” the storytelling is far from heavy-handed. Rather, McNeil seems to keep in mind the potency of mythic storytelling that often conveys more ongoing questions than definitive answers. Hopefully, she can keep Finder kindled or switching tracks as it does, dexterously swirling towards untold inventive generations.

Notes to review of Finder: Torch

1. The Lulu award is in especial recognition of self-published comics in North America, with the Ignatz awards being given to notable autonomously published comics of merit. The Eisner is a wider award in the field, considered by many to be the highest honor conferred. It is named after a leading creator of comics in the U.S., Will Eisner, who made a formative impact on the medium and continues to be extensively influential through the innovative relations of his past work. Information relating to specific awards attributed to Carla Speed McNeil http://friendsoflulu.wordpress.com/page/2/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carla_Speed_McNeil (both accessed 02/22/11).

2. Matthew Dick, “Finder: The Story’s the People, an Interview with Carla Speed McNeil”
http://exquisitething.blogspot.com/2009/03/normal-0-false-false-false.html (accessed 03/04/11).

3. Opening lines from “Torch”, http://www.lightspeedpress.com/?webcomic_post=001

4. The character Rachel’s trial and advancement within the Llaverac clan is told in McNeil, Finder: Voice, (Annapolis Junction, Maryland: Lightspeed Press, http://shop.lightspeedpress.com/ & Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books, 2011)

5. Mother of invention is a phrase shamelessly swiped from Frank Zappa as he applied it to his band.

6. The term “mekanikeh” is duly appropriated from McNeil. http://www.lightspeedpress.com/?webcomic_post=022

7. Gilbert Hernandez originally began his Palomar stories in the second issue of Love and Rockets in 1982 with a two-part story entitled “Heartbreak Soup”, a collective term that this comic saga is additionally known by. Hernandez continued his series up to 2003 through several generations centered mainly in the mythical Latin American village. The collected edition reprints the central stories entitled Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories, (Seattle, Washington: Fantagraphics Books, 2003).
Interview McNeil citing Hernandez as artistic influence Anna Jellinek and Jennifer M. Contino, “One Fine Finder!”, Sequential Tart
http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/apr01/mcneil.shtml (accessed 03/05/11).

Bibliography

Attached is a chronological listing of Carla Speed McNeil’s comic series Finder. Single issues are still available as back issues and are relevant, particular for their cover illustrations that are in color lending another view of the myriad characters. In some displays this is particularly striking, as on the covers to issue #16 and #17 that in the former insets the figure of Jaeger as a stand out among citizens of Anvard and the latter where he blends in with the Ascian people (Fig. 1b and 2b). All of the issues have been published in re-collected editions available from McNeil’s own imprint of Lightspeed Press or her recent respective publisher Dark Horse Books as noted. The last single issue of Finder published was #38 (Oct.2005) with McNeil thereafter continuing her working chapters online as a webcomic prior to the ensuing story arcs being published.

Cover art by Carla Speed McNeil, Lightspeed Press.

Single issues: All published by Lightspeed Press (dates are for first editions).

Finder: Sin-Eater
#1-7 (Part 1) & 8-14 (Part2)
#1 (Nov. 1996) – #2 (Jan.1997) – #3 (March 1997) – #4 (May 1997) – #5 (July 1997) – #6 (Sept. 1997) – #7 (June 1998) – #8 (Jan. 1998) – #9 (March 1998) – #10 (June 1998) – #11 (August 1998) -#12 (October 1998) – #13 (Dec. 1998) – #14 (March 1999)

- King of the Cats:
#15 (Dec. 1999) – #16 (Feb. 2000) – #17 (May 2000) – #18 (July 2000)

Mystery Date (2 issue mini-series has wider connection to Finder)
#1 and 2 (May 1999)

Finder: Talisman
#19 (Sept. 2000) – #20 (Nov. 2000) – #21 (March 2001)

- Fight Scene (single story)
#22 (May 2001)

- Dream Sequence
#23 (July 2001) – #24 (Nov, 2001) – #25 (Jan. 2002) – #26 (March 2002) –
#27 (July 2002) – #28 (Sept. 2002) – #29 (Nov. 2002)

- Beware of Dog: Part 1 with Part 2 reflectively continuing in #38
#30 (Jan. 2003)

- Mystery Date (single story)
#31 (June 2003)

- The Rescuers
#32 (Aug. 2003) – #33 (Dec. 2003) – #34 (May 2004) – #35 (Nov. 2004) – #36 (May 2005) – #37 (July 2005)

- Five Crazy Women (Part 2 reflection on issue #30)
#38 (Oct. 2005)

Collected Editions (Hardbacks and Trade Paperbacks):

These may be purchased at McNeil’s store – http://shop.lightspeedpress.com -where all are available excepting the first two listings and the recent volumes published by Dark Horse Books.

Finder: Sin-Eater, Volume 1 (Trade Paperback). (London: Kogan Page, 1999)
Collects Issues #1-7

- Volume 2 (Trade Paperback). (London: Kogan Page, 2000)
Collects Issues #8-14

- King of the Cats, Volume 3 (Trade Paperback). (Annapolis Junction, Maryland: Lightspeed Press, 2001)
Collects Issues #15-18

- Talisman, Volume 4 (Trade Paperback). (Annapolis Junction, Maryland: Lightspeed Press, 2002)
Collects Issues #19-21

- Dream Sequence, Volume 5 (Trade Paperback). (Annapolis Junction, Maryland: Lightspeed Press, 2003)
Collects Issues #23-29

- Mystery Date, Volume 6 (Trade Paperback). (Annapolis Junction, Maryland: Lightspeed Press, 2004)
Collects Issues #31 and separate mini-series Mystery Date 1 & 2

- The Rescuers, Volume 7 (Trade Paperback). (Annapolis Junction, Maryland: Lightspeed Press, 2005)
Collects Issues #32-37

- Five Crazy Women, Volume 8 (Trade Paperback). (Annapolis Junction, Maryland: Lightspeed Press, 2006)
Collects Issues #30 & 38 with web serialized material in finalized format

Finder Book 1: Sin-Eater (Hardcover). (Annapolis Junction, Maryland: Lightspeed Press, 2007)
Collects Issues #1-14, with #22 (Fight Scene) and exclusive footnotes

Finder: Voice, Volume 9 (Trade Paperback). (Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse Books, 2011)
Collects web serialized material in finalized format

Finder Library: Volume 1 (Trade Paperback). (Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse Books, 2011)
Collects Sin-Eater (#1-14), King of the Cats (#15-18),Talisman (#19-21) with extensive notes.

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Noah Meernaum practices and employs a variety of aesthetic methods, working part-time in a esteemed art gallery, while pursuing the additional arts of illustrating, and writing.

 

 

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