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Ball Means Appetizer

Comic, Ben Duncan, 22 pgs.,,,, $10


ballExquisitely drawn and dementedly conceived, these 22 black-and- white pages are issued as a teaser for Duncan’s full color, 64 page Ball Means Volume 1 (separately available as of this writing). Recurring characters grace the selection of comics that range from short four-panel strips to multipage stories. An ever-smirking, oversize gumball-headed, axe-wielding character appears to be Duncan’s primary calling card, although there’s also the “shrimp with a shiv”, who appears in multiple strips.

Duncan’s cast of characters inhabits a surreal, unsettling, violent world. If dragon-hunting knights aren’t torturously liquefied within their armor by their prey’s fiery breath, they’re split head to waist by another knight’s sword, bifurcated butcher-shop style. Duncan prodigiously brings the putrefied, mutilated details of these grisly deaths to full cartoonish reality: soggy skin flayed open, dark flesh exposed like steak, charred, disfigured faces grinning, drooling, blowing bubbles.

Duncan’s work stirs a visceral reaction for me: bewildered curiosity at all the writhing smoke and gore, but also dark, creeping nausea. Much in Appetizer taps into our fundamental contingencies as meat bags, reminding us via these cartoonish surrogates just how fragile and tentative our physical existence is, and how horribly it might end. My own repulsion at the nature and vivid detail of the terrible, exaggerated violence in Duncan’s work is probably due in part to how arbitrarily it’s dished out, but it might also be because arbitrary, exaggerated, horrific violence isn’t that unusual in the real world. This is comics cast as a mirror on reality, and it’s beautiful work. (Joshua Barton)

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