by Joshua Cotter
2016, 240 pages, 7.8 x 10.2 x 0.8 inches (softcover)
Sometimes the most abstruse and esoteric dilemmas are best considered in the abstract, as if by not directly looking at things somehow makes them more clear. Zen masters speak in koans, Nietzsche wrote in aphorisms, and poets immerse themselves in metaphors, all of them trying to communicate things in a manner that steps outside of the constraints of language. So it is with Joshua W. Cotter's new book from Fantagraphics Books, Nod Away.
Nod Away is the first of what Cotter promises to be a seven-volume series. Ostensibly this first volume is a sci-fi story that circles around issues such as the human desire for exploration and connection, the power structure inherent in gender politics, and the gray area created in the intersection between science and morality, but, as the book unfolds, the reader feels there is something more complicated occurring in the periphery. Cotter is exploring profound questions of consciousness itself by creating a story that asks them indirectly.
Densely detailed and tightly packed, Cotter's pages pull and push the classic nine-panel grid layout, opening up or staying regimented as the emotional beat demands. His layouts control the reader's experience explicitly and play with expectations in order to keep things just off balance enough to force engagement and demand active reading. Just when things start to coalesce, though, Cotter blows them apart.
Two stories run simultaneously in Nod Away. The first, tight and traditionally told in the sci-fi/horror genre, posits strong statements and allows for gradual character reveals. It is in the secondary tale, though, one of a damaged man traversing a desolate environment, that Cotter enlarges his art and permeates it with surrealistic and totemic imagery that presses the reader to observe and to pause and to ponder.
Nod Away stands at the verge of a much longer journey, reassuringly beckoning the reader to follow and promising something incredible to be discovered at its end.
– Daniel Elkin