Pullbox Reviews: The Misplaced #1 – Ethereal Art and Heavenly Storytelling Make for an Outstanding Debut!

Writer/Artist/Letterer:  Chris Callahan

Editor-in-Chief:  Travis McIntire

Art Director:  Joshua Werner

Publisher:  Source Point Press

Price:  $3.99

Available:  November 20

Out next week from Source Point Press and comics newcomer Chris Callahan is the first issue of his four-part The Misplaced series.  What began for the television designer (and winner of the Aspen Comics Talent Hunt) as a graphic art series employing photo collage, digital painting, 3D models, and traditional painting became a graphic novel as Callahan, his wife and cadre of friends saw a story emerging in the work.

The Misplaced originally started out as a collection of single art pieces.  After those got a little attention, my friends kept asking me what the story was about. Since they were all thematically linked, I decided it was a natural progression to turn it into a book.”

Lucky for us that he did, but more on that later.

Callahan’s story centers around James, recently deceased in a shipwreck and deposited, in reward for a life wholesomely led, in Paradise.  Before long, however, our protagonist grows bored and dissatisfied with the tedium of eternal happiness and pleasure, in no small part because his wife Anna, who perished in the same wreck, is conspicuously absent…and his angel guide will provide no answers other than to direct him not to question.  Issue one introduces us to James, as he recognizes this absence and begins his search for Anna’s missing soul—and challenges the very fabric of reality and belief along the way.

Now, before I get into my review proper, I have to offer an apology:  I fully anticipate, within a paragraph or two, that I’ll have run completely out of superlatives with which to describe this book.  I know that I’m typically positive in my reviews, maybe bordering on exuberant—we at the Pullbox view it as our mission to promote independent and small-press offerings that we like, hoping to focus attention on otherwise-lesser-known creators.  Please trust me when I tell you, though, that The Misplaced is special.

If you’re like me, a semi-reformed geek who grew up in the ‘80’s (or maybe even later, or earlier), you heard the argument over and over again: comics are neither art, nor literature—that they’re just fluff.  Pulp.  Scribbles and capes and prepubescent male fantasy.  And, if you’re like me, you pointed to Alan Moore’s Watchmen, later to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, or the writing of Chris Claremont, or the art of Berni Wrightson and Barry Windsor-Smith, but it all fell on deaf ears.  Well, Chris Callahan ends that argument forever with The Misplaced.  This is ART and it is LITERATURE.  And the fact that it’s Callahan’s first foray into comics is nothing short of astounding.

If you’re familiar with Dave McKean’s Sandman covers, The Misplaced’s art is in a very similar vein, executed if anything more fluidly, more coherently (apologies, Dave—I promise I still love you!); Callahan’s wife and friends were correct—independent of the writing, these images tell a tale.  (And if you’re unfamiliar with McKean’s work on Sandman, well, we have some work to do.  Really.  I fear for your very soul.)  The work is gorgeous.  I cannot conceive of how much time and energy Callahan exerted on these panels—I can only be thankful that an entire, 32-page book of them is available for a mere $3.99. 

The work is semi-abstract (but I promise, not distractingly so): textured, layered, deeply shadowed and wonderfully executed.  Callahan’s interplay of bright yellow soul-light and dark shadow is superb, and really conveys the idea of James and his guide as inhabitants of heaven.  And the colors!  Truly, like watching sun- or moonlight reflecting off a diamond.  I found my eye constantly distracted from reading, wanting to explore the page, its rich textures, and where they were necessary, the expertly-drawn lines.  Even the lettering—a mix of traditional comic sans and script—is engaging and artistically-rendered, framing rather than intruding on each scene.  Graphically, this book is like meandering a closed art museum (a good one; not one of those haughty European ones with whole rooms without any furniture showing a single 4-inch painting of a white box on a white canvas) while sipping really good, 20-year Scotch.  How Callahan made it this far in life without being “discovered” is a black mark on the art industry.

Not that The Misplaced is a bunch of pretty pictures shoe-horned around a bland and poorly-written story, either.  This is a deep, highly philosophical treatise exploring such questions as the meaning and function of heaven, the value of the soul, the definition of happiness.  Heady stuff, but presented in an accessible, engaging framework where theme takes a back seat to story and emerges organically.  In many ways, it’s similar to Gaiman’s Sandman at its height: beautiful, thought-inducing fantasy.  Callahan is an excellent tale-weaver, too: he doesn’t bog you down with dialogue or beat you over the head with IMPORTANT IDEAS (despite their prevalence).  He presents his tale, trusts his artwork and the reader to do the heavy lifting and connect the dots, and stays out of the way.

And what’s really fun?  Having read the book three times now, I still don’t know into which genre I’d place it.  Higher-order philosophical treatise?  Sure.  Modern fantasy?  Ok.  Supernatural ghost story?  Yup.  A tale of old, enduring love transcending even death?  You betcha.  Capes and prepubescent male fantasy?  Well, no…but you get the picture.  I finished (ok, four times now) this book not having the slightest clue where Callahan is going with his work—and loving it all the more for that.  There’s hints at a darker tale to come, and certainly some night-apocalyptic overtones, but nothing certain.

The Misplaced is truly a remarkable debut.  Really, if there’s one book you purchase this year based on any of my reviews, let it be this one.  You can thank me later.  Better yet—thank Chris Callahan by purchasing extra copies for your friends and family.  We need to convince this guy to make more comics.

And hey—look at that!  Didn’t quite run out of superlatives.  Guess that English major did serve a purpose after all, Ma…

Score: 13/13

Review by Andy Patch, thePullbox.com

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