Publisher: King Bone Press
Writer: Harry Moyer
Artist: Harry Moyer
Cover: Harry Moyer
Letters: Harry Moyer
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
Some comics defy any attempt at description, to the point that no attempt to explain it would do it justice. While these can be perfectly good comics, these are not comics that can be judged in the same way that one might look at a Big Two comic. This is especially true of experimental comics and art comics, which often exist to push the boundaries of the medium.
Such is the case with Harry Moyer’s Saltlick, courtesy of King Bone Press. Upon reading this at first, I wasn’t entirely certain what I was looking at. Saltlick is described as “small tales of personal fears and an adaptation of a silly classic”, but that explanation doesn’t quite do the title justice either. In practice, this book is a collection of unusual short pieces that are presented in a stylized format.
In the end, Saltlick is a deceptively strange comic that is deeper than its style suggests.
At first, the cover seems not to make sense, showing a woman’s legs appearing to descend towards a pair of longer legs hanging below. On the one hand, this reflects the bizarre world that Moyer has created inside these pages, and it is striking enough to want to learn more. If nothing else, this is a refreshing change from the standard stock poses that don’t show anything about the story inside. At the same time, it’s a visual that leaves more questions than answers, and even knowing what the cover references doesn’t make it easily comprehensible. I also question the use of a pink border around a blue background, which doesn’t mesh well visually, though it is possible that Moyer intended a symbolic meaning with his color choice. The cover fairly represents the interiors, in any case.
At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking that Saltlick looks excessively simplistic and unrefined. There’s minimal use of background in many panels, and the figures themselves look fairly cartoonish. However, even a cursory look at Harry Moyer’s other work indicates that he’s a skilled artist, which leads me to believe this is an intentional stylistic decision. There are signs of this in the pages as well. The panel layouts remain consistent at four panels per page, and there are subtle touches in the visual storytelling that are cleverly done.
Although Saltlick is not as refined as this example, I’m reminded just slightly of Matt Groening’s early work on Life in Hell, a strip he created before the success of The Simpsons. That strip was likewise highly simplistic in its visual style, and yet explored some mature themes in clever ways. Similarly, Saltlick uses the simplicity of the art style to convey its deeper ideas, playing with the format to show different things visually. It’s a perfectly valid way to approach the medium and I can appreciate what Moyer is doing with this, even if it’s not likely to appeal so well to a mainstream comics audience.
There is no coloring in this issue, since Saltlick is intended as a black-and-white comic. However, I don’t see where adding color to this issue would improve it measurably, as that would undermine the effect that Moyer seems to be going for. The entire purpose of the art style is to contrast the content with the simplicity, and coloring would defeat that purpose. Some of the stories do play with shades of black, however, using the darker colors to create tone and mood at appropriate places. It’s a respectable creative decision, and there are no moments where color is missed in these panels.
Moyer’s lettering in this comic looks somewhat basic, but it serves well enough for what it’s meant to do. Most of these stories tend to be light on dialogue, so the focus is on the individual panels and what we’re meant to glean from the art techniques. Where there is dialogue, the balloons and captions look somewhat rough, but they’re reasonably well placed and make their point as they should. The chapter titles are an interesting touch, however, and they’re cleverly thought out and positioned within the panel frames. The lettering is by no means as polished as a big-budget mainstream book, but it fits the visual style and serves the story.
Saltlick is an unusual comic on a number of levels, but it’s most apparent in the writing. Though it’s a second issue, accessibility is not an issue because that’s not what this book is. These short pieces don’t appear designed to tell a consistent narrative or really focus on the aspect of plot at all. They seem to be almost short vignettes that are more in the vein of portraits rather than sequential storytelling. They are not stories that are meant to be analyzed in a traditional sense, but moments that are meant to be experienced and felt. A man may walk through a burning room in one panel, only for someone else to walk back with no signs of anything unusual, and for no reason given. It’s more likely that these elements are meant to show us the emotional reality of this situation, and that we’re meant to feel something in that moment.
At the same time, Moyer also uses the simplicity of the art style to obscure some of the depth of the story content. None of this is ever mentioned in dialogue, but we can infer certain things through Moyer’s art. One clever way that this is done is by showing the idea of blindness by obscuring the eyes of the characters, as he does in one short story. The words then have more impact because they reinforce what we see in the pictures. The advantage of working as a sole creator is that Moyer can set up a perfect rhythm between what he wants to convey visually, and the words he chooses to enhance those images.
In all honesty, Saltlick is the kind of comic that isn’t usually my preference, and it isn’t a title I would go out of my way to purchase. At the same time, I can respect what this comic is attempting to do when viewed as an art comic. This is a book that asks you to actively engage with it, rather than passively consume it. There are some interesting techniques on display here, and Harry Moyer has a unique vision that he’s brought to life in these pages. You can purchase Saltlick at King Bone’s website for a minimum of $1, and that’s a fair asking price if you want to broaden your horizons. While I find this comic so bizarre that it can’t be easily rated, it’s earned at least a solid 7/10. If you have a taste for indie titles that veer far from the mainstream and offer a distinctive voice, this may be a title worth considering.
Written by Steve Sellers
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