Review: Frontier #9 by Becca Tobin

I mid-October I wrote a micro-review
(on Twitter, of course, because blogging is hard) of Becca Tobin’s comic
published through the Youth in Decline monograph series Frontier. In a
series of tweets I mentioned some stray observations I had made, including some
of the thematic elements I found intriguing.  I wanted to revisit that
comic, because I think it’s a great example of what Frontier as a
monograph series can be, and also because, well, it’s an interesting story
about art making.

Frontier #9 is a 32 page full color
comic about Butter Road, a famous musician/artist in the band Eurobe, which is
going through a dry spell. Half of the band is doing their own thing, and the other
half can’t agree what kind of music to make. Butter Road decides to create a
new type of instrument, a lumpy golem animated with magic and blood called
Saltdough, to revive the band. Saltdough is a huge success, transforming and
reuniting the band under a sublime sound. But things aren’t perfect, especially
when Butter Road and Saltdough interact.

Tobin’s style is beautiful in an
oozing, unsettled kind of way. Vivid, unpredictable watercolors make the images
from Frontier #9 jump off the page. Tobin’s organic wobbly line, lumpy
characters, and bright colors make the whole reading experience feel a little
psychedelic and disconcerting. There’s a two page spread, where Saltdough sings
for the first time, that’s a transcendent piece of comics-making.

With this issue of Frontier, Tobin is examining the relationship an artist has with
their art. In this comic, Saltdough, the instrument, desires Butter Road’s
blood. Saltdough has a “blood gem” on its forehead, like something out of the
rogues gallery from Sailor Moon. As Saltdough sings, its gem loses its sheen,
only to be refilled when it gets contact with more of Butter’s blood. And
Butter’s art requires more and more of her as the story progresses. It’s a
frightening prospect. More frightening is the lack of care or understanding
Butter receives from the other members of the band when she expresses her
concerns.

Tobin also examines the idea of being a
“pure observing force.” Butter Road desires to become a ghost, able to observe
but with no responsibility. And in a twisted way, she gets that, for just a
second, at the end of the book. Tobin’s message is clear – you can be
completely detached when you’re dead.


Becca Tobin @beccaandthebox is a cartoonist and
illustrator from Glasgow, UK. Tobin recently published a 2 part comic, Skunk and Boy, through Hazlitt, the first part of which you can find here.

Youth in Decline @youthindecline is a publisher of comics and
zines. You can find more of their comics at their website. Subscriptions for the 2016 Frontier are running now.

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