Not all comics are designed around long story arcs--or even about the same cast of characters. Some are gag-a-day comics, things like The Far Side. And some comics are something different still--not comics meant to tell a single story or to tell jokes, but comics in which each comic is itself a story, almost entirely self-contained. These are the comics equivalent of short stories, and they’re surprisingly rare.
Juan Santapau’s The Secret Knots is one of this rare breed. Santapau is a native of Chile who has been posting his work online since 2005. The name of his comic, he says, comes from the writings of the 17th century Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kirscher, who wrote, “The world is bound by secret knots.” Thus, Juan Santapau decided to call his work The Secret Knots: comics about things we do without knowing why. The stories told in the comics are largely self-contained, though Santapau says that they all take place in the same world. The comics are done in English with the aid of an editor, and while Santapau admits that there are still errors and typos, they don’t distract from the reading experience.
This world is a strange place, a world of bizarre, magical events and introspective, strange people. There is little common theme to the stories, and the art itself, while always recognizable, can vary from story to story. The art is easily the comic’s strongest point. It is a distinctive style, strongly reliant on color to convey the emotion of the scenes. Many panels are done only in shades of a single color, or perhaps two. This produces a powerful effect, making the entire comic almost dreamlike as it moves from panel to panel, colors shifting.
The writing of the stories is likewise quite good. The stories are intriguing, occasionally haunting tales of a bizarre world of strange events and stranger people. In one story, “Missing Scenes,” a film connoisseur obsesses over a single film, only to discover the world around him becoming more and more like that film until at last he is visited by a strange secret society of obsessive illusionists. These men and women are consumed by the world of the film and the secrets around it, and this obsession terrifies and even breaks the film appreciator. In another story, “Fantasy Novels,” we learn of a would-be writer, of the story she wanted to write. Before it can be published, or even seen by anyone, she has a stroke. In her dying moments in the hospital, she begins to see fairies around her. Are they real? Are they hallucinations as she dies? Santapau never answers this, and the mystery is tantalizing.
The comic is far from perfect, however. It relies heavily on narration to explain what is going on, with little dialogue in most of its stories. When the comic is called a collection of short stories in comic form, that is all too true. These stories feel more like short stories written out and accompanied by images, rather than a comic. Too much is told, rather than shown. The art is beautiful, but it is not utilized to the full extent that it could be to communicate the story. Indeed, often the narration accompanying the images has little to do with the art, being the internal monologue of some character or the words of an unseen narrator. When the art is allowed to tell the story as well as the text, the comic becomes brilliant. Too often, though, the text has to do all the heavy lifting while the art is merely an accompaniment, setting the mood. This does not prevent the comics from being good, but it does prevent them from being great.
There is also the issue of schedule. There apparently isn’t one for The Secret Knots. Comics are posted at irregular intervals--sometimes several in a single month, sometimes none. There is no way to know when the comic has updated except to check it, and the often long periods between updates make that a frustrating endeavor. For the interested reader, I would suggest checking back no more than once a month--while you might have to go back to read a comic you missed, the odds are against it.
TL;DR: If you are interested in strange, mystifying stories that leave you wondering more about their subjects, you’ll probably enjoy The Secret Knots. However, be prepared for the fact that the comic often feels more like an illustrated short story than an integrated piece of sequential art, and further prepared for irregular and slow updates.
The Secret Knots is a comic made of short, self-contained stories, written and drawn by Juan Santapau. You can read it at the author’s website, http://www.thesecretknots.com/.
The Secret Knots was brought to the attention of Spandexless as a solicitation for review by the author, Juan Santapu. All art in this post has been pulled from the author's website and belongs solely to him.
Joshua Krutt has a degree in General Studies with a focus in Information Science and Anthropology, and is looking to get a degree on Library Science. This translates, roughly, to "enjoys researching things too much." He’s a fan of comics (usually webcomics) and graphic novels. He is also a fan of tabletop RPGs. He hopes to one day be an author of some kind; he’s not picky about the industry.