Your Disease Spreads Quick & Brilliantly Ham-Fisted by Tom Neely

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Your Disease Spreads Quick & Brilliantly Ham-Fisted
By Tom Neely

tomneelyyourdiseasecoverWith The Blot, Tom Neely created one of the best graphic novels of 2007. It was weird and wonderful—surrealist and terrifying and strangely hopeful, all at the same time. Neely’s artwork ably straddled the line between the comfortably familiar and the compellingly new, with a largely wordless story that managed to draw readers in while leaving nearly everyone who read it with vastly varying interpretations of the author’s intentions.

Neely, thankfully, has seen fit to waste little time after the release of The Blot, crafting two minis—both aesthetically pleasing books that maintain the author’s careful attention to quality packaging. Of course, referring to either or both as Neely’s follow up to The Blot would, perhaps, be overstating their importance. They are instead well-made convention sales fodder for the artist and a much-welcomed stop-gap for those of us eagerly awaiting Neely’s next major release.

Created in conjuction with the recently released Melvins box set, (a) Senile Animal, Your Disease Spreads Quick is inspired—at best—very loosely by the sludge metal band, which is to say that, like the best pieces of art, it borrows from the group only enough to create a jumping off point for its own independent statement, one that, if The Blot was indeed a proper indication, is undeinably Neely.

Where the aforementioned book was almost entirely wordless, however, Your Disease Spreads Quick relies ever so tentatively upon dialogue—loose scraps of lyrics cobbled together from the linear notes of (a) Senile Animal like pasted together pieces from a Burroughs word collage.  Taken together, they fittingly read like statements of untethered existentialist dread—doomed proclamations in a horrific world populated by character sketches drawn from the abstractions of the Melvins’ correspondingly dark imagery.

Neely’s own images, however, succeed on their own, and while there’s no point in doubting the author’s insistence that he drew upon them directly as an inspiration for the work, Your Disease Spreads Quick would arguably have been just as successful had it maintained The Blot‘s instance on letting the pictures speak for themselves. Neely is, as ever, an incredibly powerful visual storyteller. Over the course 22 pages, the mini takes the reader across a vast journey into the inner-most reaches of the artist’s sometimes frightening psyche, borrowing from sources a multitude of sources like Ralph Steadman, EC Seegar, and Fritz Lang.

Neely also indulges the band’s perverse sense of humor, both with a telling spread mapping the inner-most working of world government (complete with an image of Satan shaking a martini for Winston Churchill) and a faux backcover ad for snack cakes that looks as if it had fallen out of the pages of an old Archie book.

Brilliantly Ham-Fisted, meanwhile, at least visually, feels like something of an appendix to The Blot, complete with frequent appearances by that book’s bowler-hatted protagonist. Like Your Disease Spreads Quick, the book relies on dialogue that often seems to bear little or no direct relation to the corresponding imagery. Neely’s front cover description of the pieces as “comic strip poems” is fairly apt. Each is a surrealist self-contained vignette—more an expression of abstract emotion than an overt attempt to tell a story.

More often than not, the poems are an expression of some manner of dread, longing, or ennui, as illustrated by the dark cloud hovering above the house on the book’s front cover. There are, however, some bright moments contained therein, like a strip dedicated to his new wife Anna with a tropical sunset that lends a rare moment of color to the largely black and white book. The sense of hopefulness retroactively imbues The Blot with a touch of autobiography that seemingly wasn’t there before. In that sense, Brilliantly Ham-Fisted can, perhaps, be viewed as Neely’s unique attempt at a diary strip, a concept seemingly affirmed by the artist’s decision to date each of the strips.

Neither Brilliantly Ham-Fisted nor Your Disease Spreads Quick is the follow up to The Blot that we’ve all been waiting for, but fans of Neely’s deservedly lauded book will no doubt be satiated by both books which provided a happy return to Neely’s strange and wonderful universe and a chance to delve even further into the artist’s happily warped psyche.

–Brian Heater

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2 Comments to “Your Disease Spreads Quick & Brilliantly Ham-Fisted by Tom Neely”

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