Continuing the slow roll-out of SYZYGY Publishing, the new Image imprint curated by ex-IDW company man/writer Chris Ryall and Australian pop artist Ashley Wood, the 7174 Annual lands this week, further hammering home the all-around focus on aesthetic the imprint is likely to be known for.
The book will be divisive among readers for a variety of reasons, foremost of which is the book’s obtuse approach to presenting narrative. Without knowing anything about the projects presented here (all, it seems, linked to the Underverse—a narrative construct as well as the name of Wood’s incredible/incredibly out-of-control toy projects), new readers are going to find it hard to establish a through-line. While a sort of universe may be presented–a cosmic conflict over goddess-like muses–it is never presented in a traditional storytelling manner. Broken up into thirteen chapters (over 88 pages), the annual rapid-fires abstract concept after abstract concept.
While the beautiful Zoe Thorogood/David M Booher adaptation of Joe Hill’s Rain precedes 7174, this annual might more accurately distill the overall creed of the imprint. Named for the entertainment company Wood created with writing partner T.P. Louise, the annual essentially functions as a sampler for the various projects which lived under that banner.
This isn’t exactly a damning trait. It has the effect of a label sampler, presenting small selections of a larger catalog. The cohesive depths of all those projects/properties can’t be fully explored, but compelling hooks can be made. If the reader can suss out the story that makes a character like, say, Astro Boy send-up Ashtro Lad compelling, that reader is probably going to be on the lookout for any future Ashtro Lad content. But this doesn’t do a lot to showcase T.P. Louise’s strengths or voice.
What the book is much more successful at is existing wholly as a sort of Ashley Wood sketchbook, presenting not only Wood’s own hyper-compelling artwork but also a larger SYZYGY design-and-color-aesthetic. Wood, who serves as the company’s Art Director, might very well be selling us what could be seen as a look-book for future projects—a style guide, say, that we can see working in Rain already.
The book is inarguably beautiful, a pop-art artifact. Wood’s trademark hyper-controlled sketchiness cuts dynamic figures on nearly every page, and the colors exaggerate classic four-color comic printing mistakes, overlaying the line-art over offset patches of color. The panel layout is just as often implied as it is drafted, created underneath larger illustrations by Ben-Day dot shades. Rather than an expressionist, full-color palette, the book restricts itself to off-color pages and the bold, contrasting color swatches of a screen print. Everywhere, the book wants to hammer home an aesthetic of simulated reproduction.
It’s this painstaking control over comic book simulacra that most establishes the 7174 Annual as a sort of manifesto of Wood’s intended art direction at the imprint. “You are looking at a comic book,” it seems to say, ”and both you and I know it. But that doesn’t mean this has to work like a comic book.”
While it’s a little exasperating, I suppose I should note that the book—like much of Wood’s art—features nudity, fetishistic depictions, a sort of celebratory-if-objectifying sexuality. It’s exasperating because it seems to me that if this is the sort of artwork that speaks to you, it’s unlikely that you would shy away from the sexually representative. It’s just a simple note to the more prudish—or, of course, those Advising Parents–among you.
For my money, the 7174 Annual is a beautiful, confusing mess that’s more exciting than it is confounding. It’s a showcase of an artist so utterly unique that his art directorship might be one of the most talked-about aspects of work released by the imprint.
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