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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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11/30/2005 Archived Entry: "Comic review: Submarine File"

Submarine File
by Carmen Ogden
Published by Happy Goat

Review by Tom Good

The more comics I read, the more surprised I am to come across something really new and different. I usually note how much a comic grabs me with its first impression, and then compare that with how much staying power it has: how much and how long I keep thinking about it after I've finished reading. In both of these categories, Carmen Ogden's mysterious Submarine File series scores high marks. When I discovered it at the Stumptown Comics Fest earlier this year, it stood out from the other comics I saw that day, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

The drawings show the inhabitants of a submarine, usually framed by the rounded doorways and hatches of the vessel. Through-the-doorway compositions lead the reader into feeling like a stowaway on the submarine, spying on the crew. This device establishes the location of the story, but also hints at more universal themes. Some of these bordered drawings remind me of a cartouche, while other drawings arrange the characters like fetuses in the "womb" of the submarine, or emerging from hatches as if being born.

The artistic style is primitive, yet thoughtful and full of personality. It seems almost like the comic itself could have been drawn by one of the submarine's crew as a record of his or her experiences. The issue called file: 1811525 enhances this impression by putting a drawing of a bird on the inside cover, apparently as just a decorative device outside of the story. But later a very similar drawing appears on a piece of paper held by one of the characters.

The first few issues of this comic have no words and no conventional narrative, so reading them is a bit like trying to decode the secrets of a lost civilization from fragments of pottery. One gets the sense of seeing intriguing glimpses of a much larger story. Later issues have some dialogue as well as "artifacts" such as typed and handwritten notes from one character to another, and transcriptions of conversations. (Who transcribed them and why? Is someone listening to them?)

So far, Submarine File offers more questions than answers. It may frustrate those who just want a straightforward story with plenty of explanations, but I found it hard to put down and impossible to forget. It is strange, to be sure, but strange in a very interesting and intense way. It reminded me of the feeling I had upon discovering the paintings of Gustave Moreau, whose dreamlike canvases seem to hold more secrets than the viewer can grasp.

I recommend Submarine File as a good independent comic that breaks some new ground.

Submarine File is available by subscription for 20 dollars/year, from:

Carmen Ogden
327 Market St
Santa Cruz, CA 95060-2930

or e-mail for a free sample.

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