Ochre Ellipse #2
By Jonas Madden-Connon
Start with something simple: unrequited love. A cashier at a supermarket–Mercet. She’s small and full-bodied and rosy-cheeked. She works the checkout line Mondays through Thursdays and on Saturday afternoons. Our momentary protagonist is, to say the least, enamored. He meanders through the supermarket, tossing groceries into his basket that he never plans on purchasing, to avoiding looking suspicious. It’s a basic conceit–one sure to be incredibly familiar to anyone who has read their share of indie books.
For Jonas Madden-Connor, however, this base plotline feels like more of a sandbox, a safe environment in which to try out a multitude of ideas, something that Ochre Ellipse is clearly not lacking, a point made abundantly clear by turning to nearly any of the book’s 29 CD booklet-sized pages. Madden-Connor’s scenes employ a unique sense of depth, a camera trained 3/4 overhead, on a plane to which even his character’s speech bubbles adhere. The panels that retain them, while present on nearly ever page, dissolve or shift, a friendly reminder that, while the artist is still content to use them as a tool with which to tell his story, they are simply that–a means to an end, rather than a necessity. Objects on the store’s shelves are also fodder for the story, adapting their text to form streams of thoughts that project our unrequited narrator’s inner-monologue.
Nearly every storytelling device, Madden-Connor soon makes it clear, is little more than that–a tool at the artist’s disposal, and all are expendable for the sake of visual storytelling: layout, narrative, even his characters’ identities. “See, I draw myself as a mynah bird,” explains a bird-headed, hoodie-wearing character, sitting on a BART train, describing the mini-comic in his hand, which, it seems also contains the events leading up to the story’s present moment. Further explanation naturally sets up the next scene, wherein the flip of a page finds German scientist Ernst Haeckel addressing the reader, fleshing out a theory introduced by our mynah bird, the page before.
“The real character of the story is a young woman,” explains the narrator on the facing page, “Haeckel is just a device.” And with that, the story turns back to Mercet, the aforementioned woman–a distant relative, it seems, of Haeckel himself. The layers of storytelling swirl throughout Ochre Ellipse, and by the close of this chapter, we’ve got no better of concept of where we stand with respect to the story than we did when it began. Coherence, it seems, is one of the casualties of maintaining so tenuous a focus of linear narrative. It also suffers a bit at the hands of Madden-Connor’s eagerness to flesh out so many ideas in so small a space.
Fortunately, in the case of Ochre Ellipse, it’s a minor hurdle to overcome. The book is the work of a young artist who is clearly having fun with every aspect of the medium, and the result is a mini-comic busting at the seams with fascinating ideas. Hopefully future installments will help see them through.