Split #1

Posted: Wednesday, August 8, 2007
By: Steve Saville

Cover of Split #1 Writer(s): Brad Gottschalk
Artist(s): Silent Theater
From: USA
Price: US $3.

A word of warning for any prospective reader of ‘Split,’ read the visual symbolism very closely. In fact to have any real hope of understanding what is going on in this comic a reader will need to unpack the visual symbolism of a panel [almost every panel] before reading the words and then carefully marry the two. Many would argue [and I would agree] that this is in fact the only way to really read a comic anyway. In this case however it is imperative if the storyline is to make any sense at all. In other words you have to work at this comic, understanding it does not come easy.

Essentially this is a bleak and depressing contemporary tale of what happens when an everyday city office block worker undergoes a traumatic experience. It is not a comforting or comfortable read. Tom Gennaros is the main character who has to face up to life after a co worker goes AWOL with a gun in the office block where he works.
The basic storyline then is fairly accessible and easily understood. The interesting thing about the treatment here is that after the shoot up the story splits in two, based on how Tom could have responded. The pages on the left look at the consequences of one reaction and the pages on the right follow another.

An intriguing approach and a worthy one. Kind of a ‘Run Lola Run” approach in a way.
The problem is that unless you pick up on the visual symbolism then it is difficult to follow what is actually going on. I must admit I was almost through a complete reading before the penny dropped [Doh].

Yes the story is called ‘Split” and yes the use of Black and white contrast all symbolise the dual pathway approach but I missed it. I still feel that this concept needed to be introduced with more consideration and planning to ensure maximum impact.

The dual narratives are fascinating but somehow the intense empathy with the traumatised Tom never occurs. He remains a distanced figure and one that I found it hard to relate too. This despite the inclusion of visual representations on what is going on in his mind, the alternation between reality and Tom’s vision of reality should ensure identification with him but it somehow misses the mark.

The presentation could be part of the problem here. For what is an intensely emotional concept the overuse of mid to long range portrayals of Tom ensures that we never get to really identify or draw close to him. Coupled with this is a background that is often nothing more than shading or hatching. The heavy use of this technique often overpowers the focal point of the frame to the point where the focal point and the background shading almost merge into one.

The fact that this comic is presented in A4 format just seems to exaggerate this effect, I feel it could easily have been compressed into A5 format and with a bit of work on contrast would possibly have been more visually engaging.

In a similar vein this expansiveness continues throughout the comic and is evident in the layout of many pages [often a page consists of 4 largish frames] and with the chapter breaks. I question the effectiveness of dedicating 8 pages in a 43 page comic to chapter headings, especially when each heading consists of the title and a close up of Tom. It seems a little unnecessary and does break the narrative flow.

The fact that most of the frames are standard square shapes also tends to inhibit what should be a very emotional and explosive tale. I realise that this may be intentional to represent the main characters repetitive life but it does mean that the emotional intensity drops off the scale.

There are many good points about this ambitious ongoing storyline. The dual narrative, interesting range of camera angles and the relevance of the plot are but three but until I feel an empathy with Tom it will remain a distanced and slightly frustrating read.

In a Word: Restricted.

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