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The Philodoxer
Thoughts on writing and publishing, and the various sources of entertainment...
A weekly column by Abel G. Peña, best known for his Star Wars work.

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THE PHILODOXER for 07/30/2006
Abel, or The Spoils of Narcissism

Do you remember the first person you ever met who had the same name as you? Probably not if your name's John. But maybe you've Googled yourself and come up with a clone, like Abel Peña the professional salsa dancer. Or read your name in the obituary section of your local paper. It's always an uncanny experience.

Not long ago, I was in my local comic shop and there it was, starring back at me like the name on my grandfather's tombstone. Abel. That's the title of the trade paperback written by William Harms and illustrated by Mark Bloodworth. I don't believe in omens, but I do believe in irony. After a second of indecision, I decided to chance it. What the heck, it was three trade paperbacks for 20 bucks that day.


Taking place around the time of World War II in rural America, Abel is the story of two brothers and the poison of empathy. The complex depth of its characters is omnipresent. They are at once sympathetic cowards, lonely bullies, and good-natured racists. No one is beyond reproach or admiration. There are villains here, but they have endearing qualities: a practical old man recalls without guilt his enslavement of droves of Chinese immigrant laborers in making his fortune; a Depression-era father raises his sons with a callous hand, preparing them for the worst in the only way he knows how; and a bullying older brother fundamentally longs for the love and admiration of his kind-hearted sibling. It is patently a story of the failures of men, for women here are either inspiration or victim, but never at fault.

Nothing is overstated in Abel, leaving thinking readers to pull together the pieces of deeper meaning. Violence and sin are related with such unflinching objectivity the mind can only debase humanity to a level equivalent to dogs or conclude evil must certainly exist.

Reinforcing this concept is the style of the book's two-fold monochrome art, with animals rendered with a strikingly realistic precision, while the depictions of persons borders on an Eisner homage. I'll let readers and professional artists speak to the intentionality of that, but ultimately the deftness of storytelling of Abel is unquestionable with its thought-provoking arrangements within panels and on the pages at large. Old Middle America becomes a truly epic setting for a story as old as Western civilization.

- Abel

<< 07/16/2006 | 07/30/2006 | 08/06/2006 >>

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