Suckle: The Status of Basil
Dave Cooper, writer and artist
(Fantagraphics, 1996)

Let me preface this review by saying that this is my interpretation of Dave Cooper's graphic novel, spoiler-free of course.

Suckle: The Status of Basil is a very abstract black-and-white story that follows the journey of a young boy named Basil. The beginning appropriately shows his birth and childhood in solitude. As adolescence approaches, Basil embarks on an unknown journey as he discovers he is not alone and encounters aspects of civilization. Seeing how solitude is not his only option, Basil realizes that all he needs is a friend to end this solitude. The further into civilization he ventures, the more he experiences -- some good and some bad. His journey is interrupted with disturbing dreams that offer no solace to his waking wanderings. Ultimately, Basil must learn to quell his natural and dark urges while trying to find his place in society.

As I see it, Basil is the physical manifestation of innocence and youth. While his grail is encompassed in the purity of a friend, he begins to gain true knowledge of the world. His journey represents everyone's sexual awakening and discovery of malice in the world. Basil is obviously confused, as not all people are good nor all aspects of sex bad.

The story is not the strong point -- it's the art/storytelling. Just like the movies, never doubt the power (and purity!) of black and white. Dave Cooper's inking is well done -- the moods are portrayed as well or better in the backgrounds as the character's faces. There is also the nice technique of making the borders wavy during the dream sequences. The abstract artwork conveys the sense of confusion. The cartoonish style, reminiscent of Matt Groenig, enforces the notion of Basil's innocence while shocking you with graphic imagery. (Try to count the vaginal references -- it'll take some time!) In some cases, the visual juxtaposition of Basil's innocent appearance with the graphic sexual images borders on disturbing.

Suckle is weird, twisted, sometimes disgusting, confusing and wonderful -- just like adolescence. This graphic novel tackles typically taboo subjects like young lust and temptation while allowing the central character to be inherently sweet. I wouldn't recommend this book to everyone -- some people wouldn't get past the graphic scenes. That being said, those that don't shy away from graphic scenes will find a deeper story told through some damn fine art.

[ by C. Nathan Coyle ]
Rambles: 31 August 2002

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