Reading Banimon reminded me a lot of when I finally got around to reading Brandon Graham's King City a few months back. I had started it a couple of times before, but I never really seemed to make a dent in it until I finally got sick of it mocking me from atop my “To-Read” stack, and I decided to just read it all in one sitting. What impressed me about King City is how it seemed to develop its own visual language that made it a totally unique reading experience and one that made sure you would have to read it multiple times simply to understand it. Banimon isn’t nearly as strong in terms of creative vision as King City, but it is a book that has a unique visual language that makes it hard to crack upon a first reading. As a critic/reviewer/opinion monkey I rely heavily on first impressions to inform my writing, but there are books that just can't be boiled down easily and require reassessment. By the time you read this, I’ll have written paragraphs that swung wildly from loving praise to bitter hatred, and ultimately I’ve fallen somewhere in the middle of those two while leaning slightly more towards the positive. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is the kind of book that will vary drastically from person to person both in terms of enjoyment and the effectiveness with which that visual storytelling is viewed. Ultimately though, I believe Banimon is a valid, albeit nearly exhausting experiment of of an artist running absolutely wild.
Banimon is written and illustrated by Boris Savic and whatever plot there is centers on Nikola Tesla in a post-apocalyptic earth while he tries to harness the power of the Banimon mushroom, but to use it he has to put together a team consisting of a rabbit, a tiger, and a penguin to compete in a series of games against a legion of barbarians for…reasons. Uhh, okay, I’m going to admit I don’t really have any clue what’s going on in this comic except in the broadest sense possible. This isn’t to say that I think Savic is a bad writer, but I got the feeling that he wasn’t all that committed to his own premise after the first issue. The first issue focused so heavily on the games and the mushroom while not really getting into the reasons why either of those were important, so I was expecting those aspects to be explored a little further in the subsequent issues, but it just sort of falls into the “Stuff Happens” style of plotting with only the most tenuous threads holding it all together.
This isn’t even to say I have a problem with that type of storytelling- the aforementioned King City did that too, because as annoyed as I was in that instance I do have to admit that every issue of Banimon is at least fun, and you can't help but admire the sort of out-and-out maniacal glee that this book emits. The characters that inhabit Banimon are delightfully off-kilter and lend themselves to the book's overall comic sensibility and the “Stuff Happens” style plot includes some genuine surprise and leaves you wondering what’s going to happen next once you begin to roll with it.
The book really shines though with its artwork and Savic's willingness to go absolutely wild from page to page. At first glance Savic's art looks incredibly simplistic, just geometric shapes and thick line work, but once the book starts rolling you start to notice the complexity that he uses in his layouts. This complexity does make parts of it hard to read, although in those parts it has a tendency to use arrows to indicate the flow of the panels. At first I found those arrows kind of annoying, but these feelings were generally offset by Savic's ability to use those directions in interesting ways, such as when the character of Tesla uses an arrow to slide from scene to scene, which I found very cool. Ultimately, the art has a feel of barely controlled chaos. It frequently breaks through panels, which gives it the feeling that the art is literally bursting off the page. For all I know these kinds of things break all kinds of rules as far as page construction goes, but I don’t really care- and I doubt anyone else would either, because the feeling you get from seeing this kind creative burst is truly entertaining if not out-and-out impressive.
Ultimately I feel Banimon is one of those comics that really will vary from person to person in terms of enjoyment and understanding. By understanding I don’t mean in terms of confusing or to hard to comprehend, but different people might get different results from it. Some will thinks it’s a great experiment in sequential storytelling, some will no doubt think its crap, and some wont know where they stand and put it down with a smirk and a shrug. In the end I think I fall into the first category. I might not love the book fully and I don’t know if I’ll ever have the urge to read it again, but I’m glad that this book exists. I’m glad I can still be surprised when I open up a front cover, and I’m sure a few of you might like a bit of a surprise as well.
TL;DR: Banimon is an occasionally exhausting and infuriating read that will no doubt vary from person to person but is still very interesting on a visual level.
Banimon is written and illustrated by Boris Slavic. It's self published and copies of the book can be purchased at the book's website.
Review copies of Banimon were graciously provided to Spandexless by the creator.