Underground Film Journal

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Mercy Seat #1 & 2

By Mike Everleth ⋅ November 24, 2007

Mercy Seat #1 & 2

It’s nice to see an autobiographical comic book writer flat out state on his first page that he’s ripping off Harvey Pekar.

Ok, Gord Cummings writes that he was “inspired” by Harvey, but if someone is going to have an autobiographical comic with multiple artists illustrating the writing then the first thing anybody is going to say about it is how it compares to the legendary American Splendor, especially if that person is a lifelong Pekar fan like myself.

But, I’m going to do my best to refrain from doing that, especially since Gord has a different enough vibe to stand on his own. He sets out his goal for the series in his first tale, which is mostly a first-person rant directed at the reader. Gord hopes to record different memories from his life in comic book form so that he can essentially wipe those memories from his consciousness. He compares this to the way a person who has a near death experience is said to relive his memories while going “towards the light.” It’s an interesting concept and I agree that when I used to write autobiographical tales for the web (sorry, they don’t exist online anymore) and I would re-read them years later, or even months later, the person in those stories seemed like a different person that I didn’t know anymore. So, I can relate to what Gord’s getting at even if I’m explaining it badly in this review.

Gord’s next tale in Mercy Seat #1 is then certainly a recorded memory, one from his childhood and a humorous tale about peeing on the school bully. It might be the best one of the book. But the rest of the tales are mostly abstract meditations on themes in Gord’s life. One deals with Gord’s inability to remember people’s names and the crazy way he gets people he’s met before to re-introduce themselves, i.e. changing his hairstyle in extreme ways so that they’re thrown off. In another story, he reflects on the terrible way he’s treated women throughout his life and his internal struggle with commitment to his wife. That one kinda made me feel bad for his wife. There’s also a couple of very different stories that don’t have anything specific to do with the author, including another rant about Canada’s divided cultures and another about a happy-go-lucky condom who gets burdened with antlers.

The art styles for each story vary wildly, too, which helps keep the book varied. Again, the best art comes with the best story, “Pee.” Actually, it might be art by Nick Johnson that really elevates the tale. Johnson’s great at laying out creative and energetic panel layouts to heighten the story’s tension and action. The payoff of spraying the bully with urine is a real humdinger of a page.

Also, in his introduction to the book, Gord puts down his own artwork, but I really like his abstract style on the one story he does illustrate, the one about his own changing hairstyles. He could use a little bit more background detail to ground the more metaphysical aspects of his musings into the real world. But it’s nice how he frames large drawings of himself around smaller action panels of himself meeting people or showing off his bald pate, goatee, crew cut, etc. I’m also fond of how he draws fingers as pointy little claws. The other art in the book I think is very nice is the one illustrating the reminiscing of the women, but it’s not signed, so I don’t know who to credit it to. It’s got a blocky Seth Tobocman vibe to it with very heavy black framing that’s very energetic.

Mercy Seat #2 opens with a straightforward tale from Gord’s past as a traveling magazine salesman with terrific shaded artwork from Richard Barkman. While in both books most of the art is stark black lines on vast expanses of white, Barkman’s gray shading really stands out. It also really fits well with, and I’m not quite sure why, the story of Gord trying to sell magazines to a religious fanatic who makes him renounce his sins. If anybody ever tries to sell me magazines, I’m going to have to remember this trick.

The other standout story in the second issue has artwork by Gord. This is another vaguely metaphysical exploration of being defined by one’s possessions and the need for more possessions. Are we defined by the physical junk we accumulate in life? I think that’s a struggle most people can relate to. And since this is a story about “stuff,” Gord’s art is much more detailed than it was in the first issue as he illustrates the massive junk pile in his brain. And drawing himself as a faceless figure crawling into a coffin comes off as being really creepy.

Other tales in issue #2 deal with Gord’s feelings of insecurity, the resentfulness he feels in life and how it both prevents and inspires him to be creative. They’re good stories, too, with nice cartoony art in the first one by Vince Smith and realistic art in the second one by Dan Schneider.

Overall the series seems to be on the right track with each issue being mixed with stories grounded in the real world and some more abstract, philosophical musings.

For more info and to read sample pages from issue #1, please visit Gord’s publishing company, Vicious Ambitious.