The sinister story of Mr Obdurate; written by Juan Manuel Ponce @ElOzymandias, with art by Craig Cermak @craigcermak. Dee Cuniff @deezoid provides colors, and Micah Myers @MicahMyers letters. The four team members work together in seamless fashion to tell a story that is provocative, implicitly violent, and more than a little spooky.
The first page sets the stage nicely. As readers, we don’t know what is going on, but we know it’s no good. ‘Fuck.’ It can mean so many things, and evoke so many emotions. Here, placed in the darkness and coming from a solitary figure, we feel the badness of it. We sense the isolation of the man in the car, and his pain. Cermak’s art paints a picture, focusing on the man’s grimace and closed eyes. He has to do something he doesn’t want to.
The next panel continues to build the sinister feeling of the story of Mr Obdurate by showing us a small diner, Mel’s at night. Christmas decorations fill its windows. The man from the car approaches the diner. We still don’t know what’s going on, therefore, our sense of unease increases.
The bottom panel doesn’t provide much more information, only that the man is meeting someone. However, the caption blocks inform the reader that there is danger, and they belong to the sinister story of Mr Obdurate. In addition to building the suspense of the story, the bottom panel also lets us in on the twist of the comic. The man in the car who we watched enter the diner is not the main character.
Sinister Images Tell Compelling Story
Comic books are static works. They have no movement or motion, and thus they often require a lot of action to keep the reader’s interest. If they don’t have action, then they need snappy dialogue. Mr Obdurate leans heavily on the latter, and somehow makes it work.
The comic is a series of conversation snippets, told mostly in a nine panel grid that confines the artwork, and produces a sense of claustrophobia in the reader. This design choice serves to increase the uneasy feeling the story wants to establish in its readers due to the limits its places on the information we have.
Another affect of the panel construction is we don’t get to see the narrator as he meets and speaks with his victims, making him difficult to connect with, and creating distance. The only time we see him is at the bottom of page one, so we have a sense of who he is, but only. We know he has a beard, and a creepy smile. We also know he wears his hat low to hide his eyes.
Part of the success of the sinister story of Mr Obdurate is how well it flows, even though we only see one half of the participants.
We don’t know who these people are, but that doesn’t matter. We see and read their reactions, and know they are nervous, jumpy, unsure of themselves. Only Mr Obdurate seems sure of himself in this sinister story, which makes sense as he is in control. His viewpoint is ours. He tells the people what to do, and they listen. The nine panel grid contributes to this, perfectly illustrating the absolute sense of control he has.
Slow Build Up to a Sinister and Satisfying End
The third page continues the panel construction, and amps up the tension. Mr Obdurate mentions that the people knew this was coming, and that they will try to stop it. Some of them, like the woman, beg. The bald man says he’s sorry and can’t do this. As readers, we still don’t know what is happening, and for that reason we are scared, too. The questions raised have no easy answers. However, rather than harming the work, these unanswered questions only build the mystery of the sinister story of Mr Obdurate.
We witness the desperation of these players as they realize their time is coming to an end. We don’t know how they will die, and it is unclear if they know that either. However, they are going to die.
Who is Mr Odburate? Is he death incarnate? A serial killer? A hired man sent to collect people? The question is left unanswered, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he has his role to play, as do we all.
I really enjoyed how this sinister story of Mr Obdurate doesn’t leave the reader with easy answers. Another thing that stood out to me was the creators’ ability to tell this creepy and atmospheric story without putting a lot of big action on the page. Despite the lack of big motion, there is still a definite sense of forward momentum along with the feeling of moving inexorably toward the ending.
If you enjoyed this comic, find the creators through their twitter links above and give them a follow and a shout out. And if you liked this post, leave a comment and let me know. Thank you for reading.
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Juan Manuel Ponce contacted me on Twitter, and while he loved what I wrote about his and the team’s comic, he told me I was wrong. The character at the end of the first page in the diner is not Mr. Obdurate. He did think it would have been a cool twist, though. So, I got that one wrong, but what I said about how the nine panel grids gives the narrator absolute control still stands.