Path (Com.x)

path-header.jpgA bunny and an elephant team up against every conceivable manner of beastie in this pleasant surprise of a graphic novel.

 

 

 

84 pgs. B&W; $12.95

(W / A: Gregory S. Baldwin)

 

One of the best parts of the comics reviewer gig is being able to be pleasantly surprised by a book that appears out of nowhere. Case in point, Path: a comic I’ve never heard of from an artist I’ve never heard of, put out by a publisher whose existence I was barely aware of when the book landed on my doorstep. And it blew me away.

Click for a larger imageIf Google is to be believed, the book’s creator, Gregory S. Baldwin, comes to comics from the world of video games. That’s surprising given his style, which has a very strong animator’s touch: his characters are cartoony and expressive, wildly exaggerated yet always on model. It’s similar in many respects to the work of artist Grant Bond (Archibald Aardvark, American McGee’s Grimm) but a little sketchier, a little rougher around the edges, with a bit of the wild-and-wacky streak of Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel (who supplies a pinup here). Though the book is black and white, the art is covered with grey tones that hit the middle ground between cel shading and a richer, more painterly vibe.

As you first dig into Path, the plot seems fun but paper thin. We join the story already in progress as our hero, Doppler the bunny rabbit, is on the run from a pack of crocidogs (a snarling hybrid beast that looks exactly as its name would suggest) when suddenly an elephant named Dodge comes falling from a nearby cliff, crushing Doppler’s attackers. Sensing an opportunity to get while the getting’s good, Doppler volunteers to hop on Dodge’s back and help guide the pachyderm up to the top of the cliff. But when they get there, they’re hardly out of the woods, as the two new friends must face off against every manner of beastie from raptor/rhino hybrids to giant squids, from a hare with a rock-hurling robot to a tribe of mleeping creatures that look like a cross between mice and chubby Jawas.

At every turn, the creatures get more fantastical. They’re weird, wacky creatures that feel like they could have leapt from the Outback of Sam Kieth’s Maxx, or the wild world of his one-shot Legs. Every one of them is captured wonderfully by Baldwin’s smooth yet kinetic art, which keeps the book moving at a fast clip. This book is just flat out fun to read, and moves along so quickly, so breezily, that you’re more than happy to ignore what seems like a fairly major plot hole: just why does an elephant want to get to the top of that cliff, anyway?

And that’s when Baldwin decides to sock you in the gut. When Path finally downshifts, it does so in such a surprisingly poignant way that the ending turns your impressions of the entire book on their ear. It’s bold, confident storytelling for a creator on his freshman comics outing.

Path is nearly two years old now and, near as I can tell, Baldwin’s only comics work. And that is a shame. This book is brimming with such life, such a wealth of creativity and energy and originality, that you can’t help but want more. Here’s hoping that Baldwin can be coaxed back into giving us the gift of another book as captivating as this one. | Jason Green

 

 

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