Webcomic Wednesday: “About the Author” by Pete Toms
Comics is ready-built for repetition. Its basic unit of composition, the panel, lends itself to arrangement in neat grids, a layout that all but begs the reader to notice that she’s seeing identical units. You can fill those panels with whatever you want, but when you fill it with the same basic thing over and over again, the effect is confrontationally direct. Its cinematic equivalent is the long take, but that’s an immersive technique, one that can lull and soothe as well as disconcert. Filling a page with a repeated image is a way to force a reader to look at the same thing for an extended period of time, yes, but that’s where the similarities end. This has a rhythm, and it’s the rhythm of smacking someone on the forehead repeatedly.
Pete Toms is best known for an intriguing and engaging combination of colorful psychedelia, comedic surrealism, genre inflections, and deadpan humor (which comes through in his flat-affect character designs as much as anywhere else). In “About the Author,” however, the only color is red, and if you’re laughing it’s as a pressure release. The title, and the direct (though sightless) gaze of the classical bust that passes for self-portraiture, force you to grapple with the idea that the person who made this comic is showing you something about himself, and that that something is best expressed by orifices that gush blood. You’re hit with this six consecutive times, like you’re a bad kid being forced to write it repeatedly on the blackboard as punishment. Toms is enough of a jokester that it’s difficult to know how seriously we’re to take this thing — certainly it’s over the top — but even if it’s exaggerated for effect, it’s still a striking blend of the classically uncanny device of the bleeding statue, the awkward convention of the “about the author” page, the ability of autobiographical comics to be disconcertingly revealing, and comics’ natural knack for using repetition to batter the reader with a single idea. It’s four very specific things overlaid on top of one another, producing a very specific and very powerful horror comic. It holds your gaze and bleeds on it.