Justin Decarlo’s Hyper Toast #5 is a 32 page A5-sized minicomic that is just pleasing to hold and look at. That the book’s cover has texture—that those silhouetted shapes and yellow outlines are raised—should be enough to warrant the book some consideration. The effort Decarlo has put into this cover surely reflects the effort he’s put into the rest of the comic.
There’s a spiral staircase in one of the book’s earliest panels. It’s an understated part of the panel, but being situated in the entry point of the frame, it’s difficult to miss. It’s as if Decarlo has furnished the reader with a symbol that appropriately conveys the winding nature of the book—
—that is to say, the book seems intellectually wearisome at first. Most of it reads as a sustained assault comprised of heavy-handed wordplay, jokes that go nowhere, and stories that take longer to go nowhere. There are a few moments embedded in the tedium that appear to have substance, making it seem as though Decarlo earnestly intends for all of his gags to land—but the opposite is more likely. There are several distinct points of self-reflection indicating that Decarlo is aware of the nature of his comic’s content.
The author is inducing some sort of altered state of reading, in which the reader’s eye is drawn away from the words on the page. Silent panels--even the spaces between word bubbles—are brought into high relief. Almost out of necessity, the reader is compelled to contemplate on these particular parts of the work. The alternative is to succumb to banality.
Hyper Toast #5 ends with panels resembling ones the reader’s seen earlier; they seem different, now, due to the oblique way in which Decarlo has engaged the reader. The book's end affects a kind of serenity, with the same clarity that accompanies a period of meditation. It's satisfying.
When the book is revisited, the reader will certainly be able to parse important symbols and themes from the white noise. A reference to an Edgar Allen Poe poem goes far in uniting several of these.
TL;DR: Justin Decarlo’s Hyper Toast #5 affirms that staircases, even the winding kind, do tend to lead one to a destination.
Hyper Toast #5 is written and illustrated by Justin Decarlo. The author’s Tumblr features original art; this article’s banner image is modified from the illustration in this post. If you have an indie-friendly shop and would like to see Decarlo’s work there, let them know!
A review copy of Hyper Toast #5 was graciously provided to Spandexless by the creator at MoCCA 2013.