Saturday, July 9, 2011

Spotlight on an Indie Comic: Egg Story by J. Marc Schmidt

This morning I explore a lovely, unique, lesser-known graphic novel(la) called Egg Story by J. Marc Schmidt, after tediously explaining how it came into my life.

There's drama, death, abduction, analysis, ninjas, and a few pictures, all after the jump.

Having been unexpectedly kidnapped by my family for the weekend yesterday after work, I found myself ready for bed with nothing to read. (Yes, I also had no spare clothes, toothbrush or phone charger, but those hardly matter in comparison.)

Fortunately there is always a new stack of books at my Mother's desk, and it only seemed fair for me to inspect and sample them at my leisure (books should be shared, even though most people, and I too have been guilty of this, never return them.) Imagine my completely delighted surprise when on top of the stack was what appeared to be a comic!

Like many children I lived for years with the stigma of being a comic book reader, but I ameliorated any short-sighted judgments on my parents' part by consuming an even larger amount of "normal" literature. However it seems that stigma increases as one starts approaching one's 30s and continues to buy large quantities of comics every week. Search for "superhero" on etsy and what comes up? Five pages of accessories and costumes for toddlers. Agists.

Regardless, my progenitors have both proven to have an open mind and a healthy amount of intellectual curiosity. Despite a brief attempt to personally convince them of the wonders available in comic book form, the insights and wisdom that can be portrayed in graphic novels, they persist as exclusive prose readers. (Though I do recall an appropriate level of appreciation for The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar.)

At last, I come to the point: on my Mother's book stack was a small, cute looking comic called "egg story" by J. Marc Schmidt:

It looked like a short read, meticulously drawn if not with virtuoso level art, with an endearing premise (rebel eggs searching for meaning in life) that had the potential to be both funny and philosophical. I picked it up and by the end of page 5, I was heartbroken.

In the end, that emotion is the one Schmidt's writing is most skilled at producing and manipulating. There's a lack of balance between the weight of calamity and good fortune in his story that keeps me from completely loving the graphic novella, but that is quite possibly entirely intentional. I believe people call this a "dark comedy."

Still there is no denying his skill and preference for the sudden, tragic, unexpected plot development that tugs at the readers' heartstrings (much like every mainstream comic book writer who has accepted that a character death is an immutable and successful plot device.) However (unlike those cheap-thrills, flashy marketing campaign writers) Schmidt works hard to make each death mean something.

Not only does the farmer's discarding of a deformed brother egg inspire grief and a ludicrous perspective shift, but the remaining characters begin to see the cruelty of the world and make a pact to stick together. Not only does a cracked egg's suicide shock his companions and show us the dangers (both inside and out) of mental instability and physical weakness, but it gives the survivors yet another character development. In reacting to the latest in a series of a grim tragedies, Schmidt shows us the two dominant ways people react to and survive the vicissitudes of life.

The two main characters, brother and sister eggs, Feather and Five Spots, instinctively take opposite tacks when confronted with further calamity. Five Spots, with her newly discovered vanity and femininity, begins a relationship with their steady companion Bumply. She knows the only comfort and safety and joy she's had in her short life was the result of Love, so she pursues it with abandon.

Brother Feather is a different matter. The death of more friends serves as a breaking point. In a single moment he decides to transform himself into a individual of strength, one not susceptible to the random misfortunes of this world, one with a mastery over emotion and action with both the power to defend and avenge. Thus begins his mission of becoming a Ninja, which is a particularly enjoyable training montage (not pictured here.)

Naturally things don't work out so easily. The course of Love turns out to have unforeseen obstacles, challenges that require one to change and mature. The purity and clarity that comes from accepting a focused mission proves susceptible to confusion and a return of that theoretically discarded human weakness.

By the story's conclusion, it seems Schmidt is telling us that while discipline, anger and resolve can get you through the tough times of life, and help you preserve a sense of self when it feels weakest (who's more vulnerable than an egg?) true strength, the kind that endures, that binds you to others and continues to propel you forward, can only come from love. Not a bad message.

The comedy is enjoyable, the emotions evoked are surprisingly poignant, and the art, while rather juvenile, is aesthetically pleasing and a perfect fit for the story. I am eager to find Schmidt's other graphic novels, one about a suburban family in the recession who happen to be Satan worshippers, and one that seems to be a love story concerned primarily with zombies. Once again a simple ingenuity with the potential to say something bigger.

Go find Mr. Schmidt's work. His blog is here. Cheers.


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