Light Riot: DepartureA comic review article by: Danny Djeljosevic
You can buy Light Riot: Departure directly from the creator at his website. So go do that.
Not a great way to start a positive review, but I'm generally distrustful of autobiographical comics. I think too many cartoonists have learned the wrong lessons from Harvey Pekar and the ensuing ilk and thus create naval-gazing works that are exclusively about liking old records, cave-dwelling and misanthropy but don't actually provide any insight except revealing the shocking truth that the creator's a bit of a self-obsessed dickbag.
Not so with Light Riot: Departure, which opens by taking place within "The cavernous recesses of the Moon." Creator Rio Aubry Taylor identifies his self-published comic as "Fantastical Autobiography" (it's right there on the back cover), and that's the type of "autobio" "comix" I can get behind.
After all, there's a benefit to imbuing truth with a helping of fiction. Truth-based storytelling can be more unbelievable than straight-up fiction in the wrong hands, while changing or adding things to the narrative, characters, details, etc. can give a storyteller enough distance to actually craft something without the limits of "what really happened." Not that I'm encouraging any writers to pull a James Frey -- but adding the caveat "semi-" to the descriptor "autobiographical" can make a work feel more "believable" than simply reporting the facts.
As much as I'd like to believe it, I'm pretty sure alien beings from the moon didn't separate Taylor's soul from his body for the sake of his spiritual advancement, but there's a sense of emotional truth to that as it coincides with the tragedy that strikes in the middle of the issue. Everyone's had that sense of the mind being somewhere else while the body remains wallowing in its quotidian muck (sometimes literally!). In Light Right, the spiritual journey is a literal one, but it could easily be a metaphor for creativity and imagination and how the physical world affects that realm whether we'd like it to or not.
Taylor's working from a very emotional place with Light Riot but actively attempts to control the structure of the thing. In other words, it's not like the wristcutting, bedroom-trashing art-stabbing that James O'Barr did back in the day with The Crow. For one thing, appropriate to his thematic content, Taylor creates an above/below dichotomy with Light Riot, following his fantastical opening with a "Meanwhile on Earth" transition to comic-Rio sitting in a tree, watching people tubing down the Ichetucknee River.
Then, once the major revelation drops, the pages split into three: Rio's soul traveling to the moon, Rio's body dealing with the fallout of coming home to tragedy and the memories running through his head during, each running (mostly) parallel across the two-page spreads for a several pages. This method welcomes a variety of reading styles -- do you read all the way acros the page or dive back and forth among the three narrative rivers like some kind of comics reading dolphin?
As you might imagine, Taylor's storytelling is ambitious, and a huge part of what makes this comic a success for me. At first, I wasn't too keen on his wide-eyed, dwarfish character rendering until I realized that the asymmetrical pseudo-ugliness of the mundane creatures offsets and enhances the beauty of the perfectly symmetrical otherworldly beings.
My only real gripe with the story is that it ends a little too soon on an image that feels more like the beginning of something larger. I'm not entirely sure if Taylor plans on continuing this narrative past its open-ended final page, but I would love to see where it goes from there.
Light Riot: Departure is an impressive debut, and looking at Rio Aubry Taylor's blog I can tell his art's only going to get stranger and more interesting as he progresses. Ultimately a great show of potential, but I'm seriously looking forward to what comes next.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery.