“There’s no difference, see?”
One story. Same backwards as forwards. A meditative reflection on life and death, God and the devil. Ice Cream Man #13 is an example of masterful craftsmanship. It accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, nothing more and nothing less. It sounds simple, but it’s probably one of the most difficult issues ever made in comics. A palindrome comic — isn’t it amazing? Think about what that takes from everyone involved. The immense knowledge dedication, and love multiple people must have for the craft. More than anything else, this comic is about the love of creation. The message is that there are limitless possibilities to storytelling, creation, and emotion. Whether you stick to a rigid structure, or throw formalism out the window, the core messages can remain the same, and innovation can ring true. This is a reflective issue about coming to terms and moving on, and about looking for answers and finding none. Ice Cream Man #13 tells its story in a way that leaves more ideas and possibilities out in the universe after reading it than before, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Formalism is defined to be “an excessive adherence to prescribed forms.” In the literary sense, W. Maxwell Prince, Martín Morazzo, Chris O’Halloran, and Good Old Neon are adhering to the prescribed form of the palindrome, but in the comics sense, they are breaking the medium wide open. The creative team takes the palindrome to the extreme by offering a visually, verbal, and structurally symmetrical issue. The art is reflected across the pages, there are mirrors and reflective elements throughout the issue, there are individual palindromic sentences, and the entire story itself is a palindrome. Even the number of panels on each page form a palindrome. It shows absolute dedication and meticulous planning for a story that returns us to the root of what Ice Cream Man is all about. We step away from Rick and Caleb for a second to explore the everyday horrors of the human experience. Paul has just experienced a great loss. He’s being told by all those around him that he’ll move on eventually and that he just has to look forward and move past it. That’s easy to say, but almost impossible to do. Paul is feeling and intense emptiness and is looking for any resemblance of an answer. Instead he finds the most terrifying thing of all: nothing.
In many ways, Ice Cream Man #13 stands out because of its narrow and specific focus. Comics, in many ways, are becoming more and more high concept. They’re about the long con and broad, sweeping stories intricately layered with numerous subplots and arcs within arcs. Ice Cream Man #13 is straightforward, but don’t mistake that for being basic or elementary. The issue revels in its simple structure while still being extraordinarily intelligent. This issue makes two stories from one. It’s like trying to complete two different puzzles with the same pieces, that then form a larger picture. It’s an incredibly difficult task but one that this creative team embraces. How do you move on? You don’t. No matter where you go, it feels as though you’re always in the same place. And perhaps part of you always will be. This isn’t the kind of horror that makes you jump back in terror. This is the kind of horror that makes you on edge for days. You just need something, any sort of signal or sign to let you know that this isn’t how it ends, but there’s nothing, and you have to live with that.
At first, the characters Paul meets along the way seem somewhat ridiculous. They spew palindromic sentences and tease Paul on his journey to find meaning. Most of the time, Paul isn’t really sure what to make of it, and as the reader, you aren’t either. He simply soaks in what they say as he wanders to the center and back again. A lot of the issue and the elements within it are ancillary to Paul, his experience, and the issue’s structure, but they’re still all part of the fun. Besides, when you take a look around, how much do you feel is ancillary to your own life? Life and death. God and the devil. Meaning and senselessness. The issue is a reflection at duality, both literally and figuratively.
When it comes down to it, Ice Cream Man #13 is an issue that could only work in the context of a loosely connected series like this one. Every element is cleverly orchestrated to pull this off. Prince using clever wordplay and framing to construct palindromes within palindromes shows true lexical mastery in a unique undertaking such as this. Morazzo’s visuals are all staged around the center of both the issue and the page. It’s very different from how a normal issue might be laid out, and it probably led to thinking about visuals in a different way. Every page and every panel conveys a movement. Usually, that movement is in one direction, but in Ice Cream Man #13, every page and panel has to somehow move in two directions at the same time, and it’s difficult to pull off. O’Halloran’s colors contribute even further to the effect by starting off very bright and varied, but slowly moving towards a more monochrome palette with splashes of red. Good Old Neon’s letter placements and different colored word balloons further add to the creepy effects and have to be placed very particularly to keep up the image of symmetry. This is the kind of issue that will stick in your mind and never get old. It’s an issue you will read and reread because it’s so cool that it can be read forwards and backwards. You’ll show you’re friends, even if they don’t read comics, and say, “Hey, check this out!” It’s got an infectious appeal, and that’s not something you can say about a lot of comics.