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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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07/09/2005 Archived Entry: "Comic review: Mosquito"

By Dan James
Published by Top Shelf

Review by Sarah Rasher

I am a text-oriented person, and this sometimes creates problems between me and visual media. When I was four years old, a friend of my grandmother's gave me a picture book that had no words, only beautiful watercolor illustrations, for which I immediately proceeded to inscribe captions in crayon. This instinct still prevails when I read graphic novels that have minimal or no text. Frequently enough, it doesn't stop me from enjoying them: Sammy Harkham's pirate tragedy Poor Sailor has such evocative images and such a clear narrative that I hardly notice the lack of words.

However, I notice every text-free panel in Dan James's Mosquito. It's not just that I feel motivated to caption the images, it's that I have no idea what is going on in most of them. In order to tell a story in pictures, those pictures must be so clear and arresting that they convey the narrative without the assistance of words. The images in Mosquito are quite the opposite. They are blocky, like bad woodcuts, and they're printed in eye-straining red on white. The characters are almost indistinguishable visually, and the pictures are so simple and cryptic that most of the time, it's impossible to tell what is happening and why. Good dialogue might have compensated for the middling art, but without words to fall back on, the inadequacies of the drawings are especially apparent.

I'd love to have included a plot summary, but I'm lost. It appears that a man, possibly in the Old West, sets out on a quest to climb a mountain and be attacked by mosquitoes, or possibly monsters, or possibly vampires. There are other episodes, with a multitude of characters warning the hero of impending "sangre" and a little girl eating a bug, but I can't figure out where they fit in. The whole story is a blur -- a tomato-red, blocky, vertigo-inducing blur.

I've read this book three times, each time assuming I was being dense and missing something, but the narrative remains impenetrable. I've come to the conclusion that my problems with Mosquito have little to do with its lack of words and everything to do with its failure to compellingly relate a story. It's confusing and amateurish, and the pictures aren't pretty enough to make up for that.

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