Review: LYDIAN, by Sam Alden
Sam Alden is known for beautifully rendered graphite comics
(for examples, check out my reviews of Alden’s Wicked Chicken Queen from Retrofit
Books retrofitcomics and It Never Happened Again from Uncivilized Press uncivilizr ). But for a little over a year, Alden has been using low-resolution full-color pixel art as something of a
departure from this distinctive style. His second collection of pixel comics, LYDIAN, is a 60 page perfect bound collection published by Space Face Books.
main character Lydian, a pink abstracted humanoid character, and a host of
oddly shaped and brightly colored friends as they make war against a collection
of evil sentient buildings, heralded by Clyde, the evil sentient tropical
resort. There’s more prep work shown than actual fighting, and the only major face
off shown in detail in the comic is between Lydian’s team and Alec, evil sentient
lighthouse, which ends in defeat and dejection.
Alden’s work is narratively dense and doesn’t always lend
itself well to interpretation. LYDIAN,
however, seems to me a story about fighting a patriarchal society, and how the
relationships women have can aid in that fight. We see both Lydian building
networks to fight against male power structures, and the difficulty in
breaching or changing these power structures. Each of the evil buildings, for example, is phallic in nature, and has a typically male name. At one point in the narrative, Lydian is stuck in a dungeon filled with horrors; many of these have parallels in real life (catcalling, being subjected to the male gaze).
One of Lydian’s foes, the Red Lady, has a strange role, both opening and closing the book, only appearing after Lydian sneaks off to have a intimate encounter; perhaps representing female sexuality and Lydian’s reaction the representation of the patriarchal fear of female sexuality.
Another theme running though LYDIAN is Lydian’s struggle with the balance
between internal and external. Lydian is emotionally unavailable and often prioritizes work over relationships. Lydian also is troubled by the relationship she has with her mother, who
she both loves but feels is too controlling. Often times Lydian blames herself
for things that are outside of her control, and is stripped of her power in key moments.
As kind of a side note, LYDIAN
also seems to address Alden’s own struggles with being a feminist ally. Clyde,
or a representation of him says in one series of panels, “I really admire all
the stuff Lydian is up to. I wish I knew how to support that. […] I’ve been
trying to read all the right stuff. I don’t want to be the problem.” While Clyde might feel like he needs to improve as a person/building, there’s no actual reform shown in LYDIAN. The battle between one of his male compatriots and Lydian’s team still happens, suggesting that
reading the right things and not wanting to be the problem aren’t enough.
Part of what I love about Alden’s graphite comics is the
juxtaposition between how loose and organic they look and how structured and
composed they actually are. LYDIAN, despite appearances, is no exception.
Sam Alden gingerlandcomics is a cartoonist and illustrator based in Los Angeles who currently works on the Cartoon Network show Adventure Time as a storyboard artist. You can find more of Sam’s work here.