Pockmarked Apocalypse #1 by Jeff Lok

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Pockmarked Apocalypse #1
by Jeff Lok
American Stronghold

There’s something funny about the Center for Cartooning Studies. What others might call a book, a project, or even more accurately a portfolio, CCS dubs a thesis. A thesis? Really?

Completion of the CCS thesis does not require research or compare/contrast methodology, like so many theses before it. There is no written requirement, such as a purpose of intent, to accompany the body of work each student presents for review at the end of the school year. On its own, the CCS thesis is a solid testament to all that the students learn at the school, but it’s still not a thesis in the classic sense. I’d like to applaud them on creatively pushing the envelope on academia, but my five-month devotion to patriarchal, dead theologians resulting in a 16-page essay on the concept of Utopian idealism – you know, a real thesis – makes me feel a little more than indignant at the implication that a single issue of a comic book is, on its own, a thesis. The mind of academia is not yet so broad that it can overlook the textbook definition of “thesis” – and what CCS calls a thesis is, in fact of Webster’s, a senior project or portfolio piece. There. I’ve said it. And now that the demon of umbrage has been exorcised, it’s time to talk about Jeff Lok’s lovely first issue of Pockmarked Apocalypse.

A man in a house overlooking a highway in a post-apocalyptic world reminisces about what’s passed and what’s present. I get the impression that when life was good he wasn’t so introspective, but in light of circumstances beyond his control, this man morphs into a steady source of calm, for no one in particular but himself, while his mind meanders tirelessly into the past. It sounds like after 40 years this would be maddening, but when times get rough, probably it’s best to focus on the good things. Obsessing over a life lived pre-bomb is maybe what keeps him sane.

In this issue (the first of eight), he goes out to the nearby gas station, which after 40 years seems to still miraculously carry rations, when he passes a man with eyes “black from seeing so much evil.” It’s a haunting way to begin a story. The main man’s life as we think of it has passed by – maybe westward over the highway into someplace likewise decimated – or it has been wiped away. Lok delicately feeds the reader brief glimpses into the man’s past. It feels slow-moving, but it’s just the first issue, so really he’s just building momentum for a very promising series about times gone wrong, the bomb, normalcy and marital fidelity.

In general, many of the books coming from CCS students in the past year have had this same eerie mix of foreboding and fiction. They are great. Only Skin, Monsters & Girls: Amelia, Snake Oil, Tragic Relief, Joseph Lambert’s prehistoric comic, and now Pockmarked Apocalypse. Does that Vermont weather inspire doom and mystery, or what? Too much of a snob to call them theses, I’ll call ’em what they are: damn good comics. All without the upward snort of indignation. I guess it doesn’t matter what they’re called so long as they keep coming.

Pockmarked Apocalypse #1 is 24-pages long, 8.5×11″, with a color cover stapled over black and white interior pages. The story falls into a 2×3 square-paneled grid. The artwork is a pattern of thin black lines, which help to create a fragile image of nature and humanity. Lines work overtime on people’s faces, running over the flesh in repetition. Visually, that kind of work is the most interesting thing on the page. If Lok could bring that quality to the rest of his book, using more contoured lines or even cross-hatching to replace the overlay of stripes, it would bring something human to the environment and really improve the gross, regimented feel of the stripe patterns and blocky panels. For a story about the aftermath of chaos and destruction, the stripes seem a bit too orderly.

The time has passed when I knew how much it cost and where to get it. I now suggest holding off until issue #2 gets released. I have a feeling you’ll want to know what happens next, anyway.

-Sarah Morean

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No Comments to “Pockmarked Apocalypse #1 by Jeff Lok”

  1. RWB | August 14th, 2008 at 11:46 am

    Actually, senior projects at art schools (both visual and performing) are often called theses. See http://www.risd.edu/email/gradshow08/index.html, http://www.schoolofvisualarts.edu/course.jsp?sCourse=SCG-6050, http://www.calarts.edu/events/10-apr-2008/unfinishedstorymfaiidancethesisconcertyenlinchou, etc. CCS is not stretching the accepted use of the word “thesis” here.

  2. Bill | August 15th, 2008 at 11:18 am

    Yeah, that’s not much for a thesis. I had to write a novel, a 60 entry annotation, and a very long paper on the use of vernacular and vocabulary as a counter-cultural functionary in Fight Club and On the Road.

  3. Izzy | August 16th, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    I agree that, on it’s own, a comic is not a thesis. However, a comic in addition to an essay describing intent, style, etc. and discussing it’s influences might be somewhat closer to a thesis. But that’s just my opinion. My thesis was a 55 page examination of the theme of education in Aristophanes’ Clouds.

    On a more important note, how do we get a copy of this comic? It looks/sounds very interesting.

  4. amze | August 18th, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Actually, in most MFA or BFA programs (whether it’s creative writing, painting or comic books) it’s not uncommon for a body of creative work to be considered equivalent to a critical thesis. The idea being that the creative work can contain the same amount of work or critical analysis but in a different form. Anyone whose tried to make a comic can tell you it takes a long time and a lot of work.

    And I would argue if one of my students had to tag on an essay describing what she was trying to do then it probably wasn’t all that successful a project to start with. Can you imagine Kerouac sitting down to discuss his influences?

    Not trying to stir it up here so much as provide another perspective. I visited the CCS this summer and the folks up there work their tails off.

  5. Mario | August 22nd, 2008 at 9:11 am

    Pockmarked Apocalypse is available, along with books from a bunch of other CCS grads, on http://www.iknowjoekimpel.com.

    CCS students are required to have a thesis defense in front of a panel of 3 professors. They must, as Amze commented, produce a significant body of creative work, and also must defend the “significant” designation. The difference between CCS and most schools is that there is one single course of study. All of the courses and programs are pre-selected by the school. If the students passed all their classes over the 2 years, it means they’ve completed historical research, demonstrated an ability to critically analyze comics as art and literature, and studied the financial/business institutions surrounding the industry.

    That’s in addition to completing the comics. Most students choose to self-publish their comics without documentation of all this additional work because they believe the comics are strong enough to stand on their own. Including additional thesis-project-type materials would label the books as “student work” instead of just “comics.” The latter designation, I believe, is much more fitting.

  6. I Know Joe Kimpel Blog » Blog Archive » Pockmarked Apocalypse #1 now for sale!