Monday, May 5, 2014

The Black Well by Jaime Tanner

While there are a number of stories that play with the idea of someone waking up to discover they are different, the king of this odd subgenre has to be Franz Kafka’s “Die Verwandlung,” known in English as “The Metamorphosis,” in which salesman Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself transformed into a giant bug.  Kafka’s story seems to be one of those strange beasts that everyone calls a classic, but seemingly no one knows anyone who has enjoyed reading it.  However, as someone who enjoys stories in the so-called weird fiction genre, I found Kafka’s most famous work interesting.

It was in this vein that Jaime Tanner’s graphic novel The Black Well appealed to me when I first heard the premise.  A man wakes up to find that he now has the head of a dog, and much like Gregor Samsa, has to find ways to continue living his life.  But Tanner takes The Black Well into far stranger directions, with a secretive island clinic, a dashing headless vampire who won’t take no for an answer, and a series of strange occurrences that lead the story into progressively odder places.

I found myself enjoying Tanner’s story as it was moving along, becoming more and more curious how it would all come together.  But then it doesn’t.  The ambiguity of the ending left this reviewer wanting more, and feeling that the end dashed a lot of the enthusiasm I was feeling as a reader.  Is The Black Well very much a part of the indie, “literary” comics tradition?  Yes, and fans of that genre might find the appeal in the ending that I missed.  However, as a fan of comics without any particular leaning in regards to indie/mainstream or “literary”/”nonliterary,” I felt that this graphic novel was a great journey with an unsatisfying conclusion.

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