Black Mane (One Time Press)

blackmane1-header.jpgLaRiccia’s graphic novel is a slice-of-life tale that asks some big questions.

 

 

88 pgs. B&W

(W / A: Michael LaRiccia)

 

The Black Mane is the beast that comic-book writer/artist Michael LaRiccia becomes in his dreams and daydreams—a huge, ferocious, fanged monster that exacts revenge upon a variety of real-life jerks that plague him, his girlfriend and other well-meaning folk.

The monster, which comes straight from LaRiccia’s id, gives him pause. Do his violent fantasies imply a lowering to the level of the rapists, wife-beaters and chauvinists who disturb him so—or does keeping Black Mane locked-up inside just drive the frustrated artist closer and closer to an explosion of ugly violence? And who’s the man here, anyway—the sensitive, diminutive artist who has difficulty with the ladies; or the various sexists who always seem to have a chick on their arms when they cross paths with him?

LaRiccia, who earned an MFA in printmaking from the Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville in ’05, was the recipient of a prestigious Xeric Foundation grant. The Xeric grants, devised by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Peter Laird, give indie-comics creators like LaRiccia the chance to see their hard work finally reach publication.

LaRiccia’s graphic novel, Black Mane, is a slice-of-life tale that asks some big questions. In one panel, the author, who tells this story through his own comically drawn likeness, a la Crumb and Pekar, is riding the bus. He looks around at the other passengers—various strangers and weirdoes in their own worlds — and asks himself "Are these the people I’m trying to reach?" It’s a question with which we’ve all wrestled. Is humanity really worth two shits? Some days yes, some days no.

That’s the story—light on plot, heavy on philosophy. LaRiccia happens upon some disturbing scenes—a number of them involve men abusing women, physically and verbally. "It’s about a kind of general disappointment in masculinity," says the author in an interview, "where men can’t control themselves, can’t turn off the animalistic parts of being male."

LaRiccia gets into a car accident and the other driver turns out to be a maniac who emerges from his car with a baseball bat. The specter of violence is always present, and so too is Black Mane, LaRiccia’s juggernaut of an alter-ego, offering adolescent revenge fantasies and some marvelously expressive art reminiscent of Ralph Steadman’s apoplectic faces and Kyle Baker’s rubbery figures.

Black Mane has some digressions that do little for the story (a bit about anxiety in public bathrooms, a shout-out to the author’s family, etc.), but its very personal take on the puzzles of masculinity and violence is ambitious and deep. | Byron Kerman

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