When I was sent the review copy of Gareth A. Hopkins' The Intercorstal: 683, I didn't quite know what to expect. Before then, I wasn't familiar with the work of illustrator Hopkins, whose personal website describes him as a man once identified as an artist, "but things are more complicated than that." I appreciate a bit of complication with my comics, so I decided to do a bit of digging around into Hopkins other work. It's an intriguing oeuvre of illustrations, assemblage, and comics projects, both whimsical and strange. As you can imagine, it's right up my alley.
As for Intercorstal, the project began in 2008 as "a way of exploring the language of comics via non-narrative, non-figurative methods." The Kickstarter campaign, which is currently ongoing at the time of this review, describes the collection as Hopkins' "homage to the comics that I loved as a child and that formed so much of who I am today. Just, in abstract." Because that's what I find so fascinating about The Intercorstal: 683: it's everything you would expect from a narrative comic book anthology, just in abstract.
It's a bit of an odd idea, but stick with me here. I believe it'll be worth it.
The completed book is 32 pages, although the preview copy is missing the last few. It's presented in five sections, or sequences, each representative of a unique aesthetic. Hopkins reinterprets and recombines the visual language of his favorite comic books through deconstructed shapes and planes. Every page is its own, self-contained world. It lives and dies there.
There are no figures in Intercorstal. There is no dialogue. There is no plot. In lieu of the conventional vocabulary of the comics each page is derived from, there are only lines. Texture. Weight. Thickness. Motion, whether real or imagined, and its impact on the relationship between the elements on the page. Stripped of the trappings of motivation and linear narrative, you're left only with an aggressive interrogation of form and space. Page after page, like walking through a gallery space and inspecting a work up close. That's the best way I can describe this book: it's like having a gallery in your hands, ready to be examined from every conceivable angle.
Despite the conscious lack of narrative cohesion, every page has its own mood. Individual panels tell fragmented stories through the wild stylistic variation of intersecting lines. Great, bulbous areas of negative space contrast the hard edges of seemingly mechanical structures. Fine, wispy lines connote intimacy as they mix and mingle in the vague outlines of human faces, hands, and backs. The spiraling, cathedral-like vortexes of the first sequence evoke the sense of being in a confined liminal space. Your eye follows them, drawn to the movement, like climbing a winding staircase to the top of a church steeple. There are faces in the windows and lovers carved out of the emptiness between them. Organic softness clashes with the austerity of the machine in seemingly endless fields of black or white.
At least, that was what I saw on my first read-through. Subsequent readings yielded different responses. The book is a bit like a Rorschach test, in that respect: you get from it what you put in it, and that may change over time. Squint until you mine the pages for a narrative you like. Or don't.
Subsequent readings also yielded questions about the book itself. Even the construction of the panel causes the reader to ponder its role, whether as a means of containing information or as an extension of the forms inside it. Some pages make specifically made me question if the use of the border/frame limited the overall presentation, leftover from the source material. Sort of a "comic book for comic book's sake" stylistic choice. I wouldn't call it a misstep by any means, but rather food for thought. As the book breaks down the reader's preconceptions and expectations of what a comic book is, and how it can be presented, you're forced to ask questions. And I appreciate any book that demands I question it even about it as I'm reading it, turning pages over and over to see if I've missed something.
Through this lens, every element of the page is suspect. Gutters are sometimes part of the whole image, rather than the void between identifiable components. Other times, gutters are the only separation, and therefore segue, from one line to the next. The gutters will sometimes even baffle you. Without a narrative, there is no sense of, or need for, explicit closure between the disparate elements on the page. Instead, every panel is connected by motion and atmosphere, as well as the expectation that they will, somehow, eventually, follow sequential order. But maddeningly, teasingly, even as you search for some familiar visual shorthand to contextualize the images, they don't. Each is a separate and unique piece, arranged alongside a series of other pieces, to create a unified collection of images.
It's a comic book that is and isn't a comic book. It's weird. It's fun.
The Intercorstal: 683 came, quite literally, out of nowhere to become one of the most engaging reading experiences I've had in a while. If you want to check it out, you can find more on both Gareth A. Hopkins and all his work at Intercorstal.com. I highly recommend giving this project and its Kickstarter a chance and a few dollars, if you can.