Gary: Book Two / by Vik Gill

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Having read Gary: Book One, the prospective reader revisits the bookstore for new fare--and they see the cover for Gary: Book Two. They are struck. It almost looks like a different thing.

 

This is not the almost-detached, neutral Gary from the cover of the first book. He has a smile on his face; his eyes are twinkling; his head is slightly tilted. It’s a very human expression.

And when the prospective reader turns the book over, the same sort of unreservedness is prevalent. The blurb is the same as on the first book, but the panel at the top of the page is much more overt. It’s Gary standing over one of his horrifying acts.

 

Mr. Cannon’s style certainly matured in the year between the publication dates of both books. This time, the waves in Gary’s hair are done with fewer, thicker and more confident lines. The shadowing on his face is a lot more prominent. The soft shadowing on the back cover’s human figures is unlike anything found in the first book.

But it’s not the art style that makes the book cover of Gary: Book Two so striking when compared to Gary: Book One--it’s what the book cover conveys. It’s more unrestrained. There’s a sense that this will not be a largely contemplative read like Gary: Book One. Perhaps there will be a lot less of the gentle prodding that characterized Mr. Cannon’s way of guiding the reader to certain emotions in the first book.

It is a different thing, but the prospective reader is more intrigued than put off. Even if it’s only by virtue of how well done Gary: Book One was, the prospective reader is compelled to turn to the first page. Any lingering doubts become extinguished.

This is an image that’s brimming with power. It carries an erotic undercurrent, but it’s almost overwhelmed by how unsettling it is. Mr. Cannon is evoking a layered kind of emotion; it arises out of his use of negative space to simultaneously engulf the woman and highlight her most supple features. Her expression of frowning indifference, her hand poised on her hip and her cigarette give a very particular implication to her choice of clothing and accessories. This is a woman of the night.

She is viewed from the side with her head facing out; the rest of her is not visible. And what the reader is able to see is partly wreathed in shadow. This is significant: the first page of Gary: Book One was a reflection of Gary through the glass of a grocery store refrigerator. The page was almost entirely different in its composition, but it was something seen through Gary’s eyes.

And this page is the same. The power of the art comes from what it is able to stir in the reader, but once those emotions settle, a larger truth becomes clear. This is how Gary must see the woman. There is no narrative bubble attributing a time or place to her--this is how every prostitute looks to him.

It’s a very effective first page, and it’s in many ways a good representation of the rest of the book. It indicates that the entire book will not be unsettling per se, but more unbound; more willing to engage emotion in a direct and immediate way. It’s clear that this page isn’t one that will be followed by a trip to the grocery store.

And the rest of the book does tend to fall in line with this indication. Like Gary: Book One, this book follows Gary through loosely-connected moments that don’t break two pages. The book is divided into two parts, with less thematic and artistic elements linking both than the two parts of the first book. Where Gary: Book One had the anger triptych, Gary’s relationship with his first wife, and one of his reprehensible acts to link both parts together, this book only has the mention of a swap meet. A scene used as a framing device in the second part further separates both halves.

As in the first book, there is the sort of storytelling where moments may be rearranged to form a more cohesive chain of events; doing so in the first half of Gary: Book Two clarifies the chronology for some of Gary’s reprehensible acts. The second half of the book is already ordered sequentially.

Looking at it broadly, it’s more uneven than Gary: Book One’s structure--the two halves of this book seem very distinct from each other.

And despite this, it’s still a coherent work. Its structure is dictated by the content of both its parts; a more thorough examination of the book’s content makes it possible to justify its structure.

The first half of the book is the reprehensible Gary. He’s actively participating in the murder of several women. There are scenes of him fucking, choking and burying: it’s very brutal. Interspersed are moments where an overwhelming kind of urgency dominates. It’s present in the second page where a number of Gary’s effects are shown in his hand. It’s present in a page depicting the moments that follow Gary’s murder of a woman.

It gives an almost rushed feeling to the first part. Not rushed in the pejorative sense, but in the sense that Mr. Cannon is hurrying the reader through these scenes of the reprehensible Gary, giving each moment just enough time so that it conveys what needs to be conveyed without turning into a spectacle. It’s very easy to let the reprehensible Gary run rampant through moments that repeatedly dwell on and highlight just how reprehensible he is, but Mr. Cannon tends not to fall into that trap. In an almost contradictory way, this could be seen as an extension of his restraint in depicting the subject matter.

The first half does become grounded in the sympathetic Gary for a brief moment towards the end, as if to further affirm that Mr. Cannon is not allowing the subject matter to get away from him.

It’s the beginning of a de-escalation that culminates in the second half of the book, where Gary himself becomes much more grounded in his new relationship, never explicitly becoming the reprehensible Gary. These moments progress in sequence; the most obvious reason for this is that Gary must feel stable in his relationship. Recall that the back cover blurb presents the book as Gary’s “memories”--his memories of Judith aren’t interspersed with unrelated memories and tangents, but go forward in a straight line.

While a first reading of Gary: Book Two may make the reader think that it’s two-toned, its two parts do complement each other in a very subtle way.

In terms of how this book falls into the Gary cycle so far, there is one panel in the first few pages that could link this book with Gary: Book One.

It looks like it could be a companion to the triptych from the first book. He’s posed on the wheel in a way similar to the Gary in the first anger triptych, and his expression could conceivably follow that triptych’s first panel. Mr. Cannon depicts Gary in a wide panel here; he’s not the frustrated man contained in his three tight boxes. He’s resolute, or at least more confident. The idea that this panel is connected to the anger triptych is a tenuous line of thinking, but even without that connection to the larger cycle, it is an interesting panel.

There is one page that’s very similar in composition to a full-page splash in the first book. The major difference is that the splash in this book is evenly divided into six panels in such a way that a single vertical bar runs down the center of the page and is intersected by two horizontal bars. Gary is facing outwards here, in the midst of a sexual encounter with another woman--a horizontal bar goes over her eyes. The first book’s splash is far simpler, with Gary’s naked back facing away from the reader and the outline of his spine implying symmetry.

Is this page another affirmation that this book is more unrestrained than its predecessor? Is Gary dehumanizing the woman by superimposing that bar over her eyes? Whatever the interpretation, the page does seem to be a companion to a corresponding page in the first book.

In terms of the book’s flaws, there is nothing that sticks out as poorly judged. Any problems arise out of the art style: it is authentic, but motion looks awkward when not conveyed over multiple panels. The art becomes stiff.

 It’s more of a consequence of the art style than any significant fault of Mr. Cannon’s, but it’s still noticeable.

But more often than not, Mr. Cannon drafts this book in a more confident, more skillful way than Gary: Book One. This feels different from Gary: Book One, but not in a bad way. Beyond the improved art, Mr. Cannon’s storytelling is such that a whole lot more can be said about the book. For example, the last page of the book’s first half is one that could be interpreted in two ways that may contradict each other; the framing device used in the book’s second half also has similar contradictory implications; there’s a moment involving Full Metal Jacket that begs the reader to think on it a little bit; what is up with that horrifying triptych following the splash page discussed earlier? There is just so much there. And all of these moments challenge the reader’s interpretation of Gary in a very significant way.

It’s wonderful.

TL;DR: Gary: Book Two is far less restrained than Gary: Book One, but it is also more nuanced. Tyrell Cannon’s evolution as an artist is palpable here.

Gary: Book Two is the second of three books in the Gary cycle, written and illustrated by Tyrell Cannon. It is self-published and available on his store.  There is also a list of local comic book shops that carry his books at the bottom of the store page. If you have an indie-friendly shop and would like to see his books there, let them know!

A review PDF of Gary: Book Two was graciously provided to Spandexless by the creator.