On the "Cusp"

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With my pith hat, khaki shorts and net I wander through the neglected jungles of comix-dom. Considered a "crackpot" by those few who even know that I am deep in-country, I hack away at the bush in search of the unknown and little-cared-for creatures that signal this system still has life. Recently, while hiding from the brutish, ape-like natives who patrol the area, I spied a new species.

"Cusp" (Alternative Comics; 40 pp.; $3.95) debuts the work of the fawn-like 22-year-old Thomas Herpich. The cover even has a deer with its head sticking out of leaf-covered lake. A naturalist theme continues inside with stories involving fish, werewolves, ants and people, all of whom either want to eat each other or mate or both. All of Herpich's stories have a dream-like quality — full of strange narrative logic founded in base instincts and anxieties — yet always funny.

Some tales are like visual limericks — poetry with a gag at the end. Take "Dr. Cranbury," for example, one of the more straight-forward bits. Like many of the tales in "Cusp" it's a single page in length. A professorial older gentlemen gets out of his car, dropping a piece of paper. Suddenly a colleague runs up to Cranbury and thrusts something in his face, shouting "look!" "It's a leaf," states Cranbury, flinching at the man's enthusiasm. Then the stranger, who is apparently one of those irritating people who sees "magic" in everything, says "No… Look…" We see the leaf. Cranbury, like us, remains mutely dumbfounded. That's it. Stare all you like you won't get it. Basically it's a shaggy dog story, but it doubles as a portrait of frustration. There's a kind of poetry too in the way Herpich uses silent panels to pace out the story. He may even be touching on a repeated motif with the "leaf" of paper at the beginning and the leaf at the end.

"Eros," the longest story of the book, bounces back and forth from a beleaguered mother to her daydream of being young, beautiful and nude, romping through idyllic hills and riding on giant, flying bugs. Shot down by a sleazy-looking cupid, she falls for a man with the head of a jackass. (Caveat emptor: pages 26 and 27 have been transposed in the printing, a fact you take for granted given topsy turvy nature of this work.) The Fellini-esque fantasy of a woman in the food court whose reality creates disturbing parallels in her dream world, "Eros" has a funny-sad sensibility that typifies these stories.

What's particularly clever about "Eros" is the way Herpich uses the forms contained in a panel to mimic those of its predecessor. A fallen ice-cream cone transposes into an eye and a nose; the fluttering wings of a bug cut to a matching close-up of the ears of the jackass. These visual puns are the equivalent of clever poetic wordplay, but unique to comix. Herpich, who's pen and ink drawings are otherwise fairly simple, has a gift for the infinitely variable patterns of comix. Through repetition and pauses, panels that repeat something from before or else contain nothing at all, Herpich bounces the reader along. Combined with his use of themes and peculiar humor, Herpich's work can be called poetry — a totally unique kind of comix poetry.

"Cusp" is a book you can read several times over with ever-increasing pleasure. Let's hope Thomas Herpich can survive in the wilds long enough to develop into an even more mature and interesting artist. I will sit and watch for while, taking notes.

"Cusp" can be found at superior comic stores.