by Brandon Graham
(Alternative Comics, 2004)

Escalator is a collection of short stories written, drawn and inked by Brandon Graham. An evening of spray-painting, sumo heroes, alien porn rings or views from a balcony -- these stories are snippets of life, ranging from our reality to surreality.

Graham does a great job with the short form. He obviously has a penchant for generating intensely interesting ideas, but it's so frustrating when the reader is only given a handful of pages to explore that world. It will be interesting to see if Graham ever expounds on any of these ideas and explores them in a longer format. But honestly, the stories are secondary to the artwork. That's not intended as a dig at Graham's storylines, but a compliment to the strength of his art.

Graham's artwork has an original distinctive style with a surprising amount of flexibility. Predominantly, it seems that once a comic artist finds his "style," he will stay within a narrow stylistic range to keep a comfortable level of identifiability. (Yes, that's probably not a real word, but if you read Escalator it fits right in.) Graham somehow has created a broader stylistic boundary for his artwork. Each story has a "Brandon Graham" look to it, yet you can't say he's blandly consistent or visually monotonous. Looking at this collection of short stories, each story is dissimilar from the other and avoids any proximity to monotony.

And speaking of style -- there are no hard, scratchy hatch marks in these pages; just fluid contrast. It's black versus white, positive and negative space, ink and page. From the facial features to the urban landscapes, you can tell Graham revels in the simple duality, yet refuses to let it stay simple. His use of contrast generates an explosive visual orgasm of strange ideas and concepts. Sometimes it's hard to tell which has more energy: the humanoid forms, the seemingly sentient cityscapes or the serene landscapes. For Graham, the contrast acts as an expressive art form that mirrors (and sometimes competes with) his narrative.

Seeing as this book is published by Alternative Comics, this is obviously an "alternative" comic. But unlike a lot of alternative/underground/independent comics, it seems as if Graham doesn't care if his stories fit in anywhere, even within that edgy sort of scene. He's just telling funky stories that may or may not have been chemically induced. So ... quirky, random, eccentric or odd -- if those characteristics are your bag, then you are sure to enjoy Escalator.

by C. Nathan Coyle
24 September 2005

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