[6 April 2005]
If the simple stick-figure and line art of Sam Brown’s Amazing Rain looks familiar, don’t be surprised. About five years ago, Brown started a website, www.explodingdog.com, showcasing his unique artwork. Readers submit titles, sometimes just a word, other times a long phrase or common saying, and Sam illustrates them.
Some of his illustrations court the obvious, displaying a Far Side-esque brand of humor, such as the recent “rain pounding on your door”, depicting large, anthropomorphic raindrops holding umbrellas in a storm knocking on someone’s door. However his most interesting delve into the surreal and leave you wondering whether to laugh or stare dumbfounded, like another recent drawing, “you have become a ghost”, featuring a journalist, in typical 50’s movie style “reporter” outfit, interviewing a purple and rather confused looking ghost.
Amazing Rain probably belongs more to the latter category. Determining an actual coherent plot is difficult, as Brown presents tales within tales, and near the end the narrative voice becomes increasingly unclear. However, it is quite likely that he doesn’t intend for the reader to follow a straight narrative line but to simply follow along as best one can. The structure is flexible enough that one can easily ascribe certain sections to one or another of the various speakers, and none would necessarily be more “correct” than another.
The story begins in “the city” that “I” live in. This city is monolithic, more like the Platonic idea of a city than any real place. Those who live within are a simple, homogenous bunch of stick figures, dwarfed by the massive gray blocks of buildings and skyscrapers. The narrator decides to do what it seems no other city-dweller has done—take a roadtrip. Taking “you” with him/her, the narrator drives and drives, until the road ends and the car breaks down, but continues to go forward on foot. Narrator and companion eventually meet up with a portly man living in the woods, who tells them stories, including the story of the king.
This is where things start to get confusing. The king’s story is also told in first person, and relates his failed attempts at forcing happiness on his population. When the book shifts back to the original storyline, the narrator expresses some confusion, probably the same confusion the reader is having by this point. Is this a “true” story, in the context of the work? Are we to take it as a myth? An allegory? Just a meaningless tale to pass the time? The book continues to keep the reader off-balance by presenting a series of strange predictions about “the future”, and it is again unclear who is making these predictions or in what context.
The original narrator, growing hungry and tired from all the storytelling, seems on the verge of passing out from hunger or exhaustion as the man keeps telling stories. Then, again, a sudden shift to the fourth section of the book occurs. This last section seems to be told by the first narrator, but arguments could probably be made otherwise. This last section has the most shocking shift in tone. Suddenly, the narrator becomes quite melancholic expressing love for his/her companion, while the action depicted in the artwork is the darkest and most disturbing of the book. Any more detail on my part would probably spoil the story, but suffice it to say that Brown does not leave us with a downer, ending the story with a somewhat ambiguous but generally promising image of rebirth.
Brown creates his artwork primarily on computer, with dark, heavy lines and solid blocks of color. While the technique is simple and almost child-like, Brown’s sense of composition and perspective display artistic talent that might not be immediately apparent to all. While the characters all basically look the same, Brown manages to get a surprising amount of emotion out of a white circle with two dots for eyes and a line for a mouth. The simplicity of artwork and narration is the strongest point of the book and works to draw the reader in to the point that the dark ending is a bit emotional despite the fact that the characters are indiscernible from one another. The book only fails when Brown tries to get too complicated; in the story of the king, it wasn’t until the third read that I realized his subjects were being forced to wear happy-faced masks. As you might imagine, this presents an awkward visual image.
The only other real negative of this book is the rather hefty price. While it is 100 pages, each page forms a single image, so the book is a pretty quick read, making the $25US price excessive and off-putting. But, despite that, Amazing Rain is a worthwhile read, and an excellent display of Brown’s unique imagination and his uncanny ability to marry text and art, a skill at the core of what “comics” and graphic fiction are all about.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/amazing-rain/