Review: Angel of a Rope by Adam Buttrick
I recently got a copy of Angel of a Rope from Domino Books, the publisher and distro run by Austin English. English’s comics are quite dense, and it wasn’t a surprise to find that the books he distributes are similarly inclined. Adam Buttrick’s work recently came to my attention through Kramer’s Ergot, and through a 2016 feature on TCJ by RJ Casey, but I didn’t fully appreciate how challenging his work can be. To hear it told, Angel of a Rope is a more coherent, more structured reading experience than his previous work. Angel of a Rope features a few elephant-looking inventors and some cyclopean antagonists, but the work defies
easy explanation, one of its many intriguing features.
Buttrick’s cartooning feels like a mix of 60-year-old aesthetics; it is as easy to see the influence of cartoonists like Mort Walker as it is the influence of Osamu Tezuka. Characters have a flop sweat sensibility, and an openness of expression that’s quite appealing. Likewise, Buttrick’s sets are full of angled lines and spheres. The effect is one of extreme of cartoony-ness that is juxtaposed against the morbid darkness of the story. This isn’t the first time a cartoonist has made exaggerated cartoony figures do or experience horrible things (Jason Shiga’s Demon comes quickly to mind), but Buttrick has doubled down on the juxtaposition, and the effect is striking.
Another striking feature of Angel of a Rope is that it doesn’t follow a linear narrative. Read it straight through without a careful evaluation panel to panel, and you will be left feeling disoriented and confused. The clues that the story is bouncing back and forth through time are apparent in the change of items in the background through their destruction or deterioration. Because Buttrick uses a vibrant goldenrod as his single color and uses it profusely, the changes in set are somewhat masked, which makes them easy to overlook. There’s a poetry to Angel of a Rope, a result of Buttrick’s obfuscation. But that obfuscation leaves the comic open to a wide variety of interpretations and expansions, each as puzzling and disheartening as the next. I’m thrilled and exhausted by this feature of Angel of a Rope; I’ve read many graphic novels, hundreds of pages longer than this 20+ page zine, that don’t manage to capture the kind of intensity Buttrick flourishes here.
Angel of a Rope plays with the idea of art and artists fighting against power. We see two craftspeople attacked and broken down by despots. The text, focused on “the money” is a clue, but it’s hard to know if the text should be taken at its face value. It’s telling that at the end, it isn’t the artists that prevail, but the cyclopean antagonists. Worse still, the artists’ identifying possessions, their hats, are stolen and worn by the cyclopean soldiers at the end of the book, which, in a way, ends twice. Who these despots represent is
the unanswered question; is Buttrick examining the failures of art to affect power structures in meaningful ways? Or perhaps Buttrick is discussing the evil of capitalist economies, and the bureaucracies that develop around them as all violence slowly becomes nonsensical given the vastness of the systems they contain? Something different, or a combination of the two? Either way, this is a fascinating comic. I was dazzled. Highly Recommended.
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