As what threatens to be the final piece in Cloonan’s self-published tryptic, Demeter feels more like a graphic epic poem than it does a comic book. Mixing as it does elements from Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the myth of Persephone (whose mother the book was, at least in part, named after) and that old campfire ghost story, The Monkey’s Paw, this is a story about insatiability, inevitability and the loss that both may bring. And goddamn is it beautiful.
Anna and Colin have been in love since the day she saved him after his ship crashed against the rocks, casting him lifeless against the breakers. As the blood-washed truth behind Anna’s involvement in Colin’s salvation comes to light, however, so too does the story’s comforting ebb transform into its jarring crash, as we discover the staggering price of her love and the costly nature of her (arguably) selfish actions. Cloonan has proven herself a fine purveyor of tragedy, as each of her mini-comics has had some or another element of a curse which rips and rends relationships apart, and here that tragic aesthetic is drawn out, like a particularly wet death rattle.
Demeter is told in labored breaths, and within the space between them; its flow not unlike an angry tide, rising and receding until finally, any solid ground on which it once stood is swallowed and drowned. Its words are well-chosen, but its silences more so. Some people might call this a horror story, and I guess it is, but this isn’t a book of screams, it’s one of gasps: the hushed fear that preys on the impermanence of breath.
Even the voices she bellows into this story feel thin and terminal. There is no great exposition here, but rather a shallow pool that belies the story’s poetic depth. It’s a story which is easy to absorb in a first sitting, but to truly soak up everything within it, you’ll need to revisit and consume it slowly, after which you’ll find that it may indeed haunt you.
In terms of visuals ... hell, what else can you say about Becky Cloonan’s art that hasn’t already been said? Not for nothing, after all, is she celebrated as one of the industry’s brightest talents. Her style is instantly recognizable, seemingly transcending itself by being at once simple and unfettered, yet charged with terrible significance and a hypnotic melancholy.
It is no less arresting in Demeter, but in a way that is completely different from what you would have found last week in The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys. Here, that almost Manga-esque, electric sugar rush settles into a pale eddy of drowned shadows. Her continued choice to work within monochrome is again inspired here, soaking her pages in the gravity of starkness, a visual queue that complements the story perfectly.
As great as it is that Demeter is available digitally on Comixology Submit, I’ll definitely be buying a physical copy of this as soon as I find one. If Wolves and The Mire are any indication, Demeter will look and feel as beautiful. Cloonan pays a lot of attention not just to the visual quality of her work, but also to the integrity of each one’s production, creating an altogether texturally-rich experience.
If you’ve read her other creator-owned stuff, then it will come as no surprise that Becky Cloonan’sDemeter is an exceptional brief retreat from anything else in the industry; and for just 99 cents, it’s an absolutely filthy steal. Put simply, I can’t recommend this book more highly.
Writer/Artist: Becky Cloonan
Release date: 06/19/13