Frontier #1: Uno Moralez
Publisher: Youth in Decline
If you have a broad enough media palate, you’ll recognize the buildings blocks of Uno Moralez’s art and comics—but there’s also nothing quite like it. Even though its touchstones—the films of David Lynch refracted through Junji Ito-style horror manga and pixel art, seasoned with Soviet flourishes—may be familiar, Moralez’s work has the quality of a staticky radio transmission from another universe unexpectedly tuned in on your car stereo during a late-night drive through unfamiliar territory. It’s strange and frightening and compelling.
Freud described a sense of the uncanny arising from being exposed to the same thing (a place, for instance) so repeatedly that what was once familiar becomes strange. In that sense, there’s hardly a better word to describe Moralez’s work than uncanny. There are almost no direct Lynch references in it (other than Laura Dern popping up from time to time), but the eerie domestic tableaus are unmistakably Lynchian. The prim, cute protagonists of his comics could be lifted straight out of Osamu Tezuka’s manga, except they’ve been dropped into Ito’s darkly sexual and violent world. And—in the perfect choice for this media moment—some of Moralez’s most provocative and disturbing work are animated GIFs. As if that mixture weren’t potent enough, there’s one final distinctive element: it’s pixel art. Moralez’s work seems to have been created using a haunted version of MacPaint in a computer lab filled with monsters—human and otherwise—creeps, sex fiends, and killers.
Frontier #1 is a relatively short—just 32 pages, the standard comic length—survey of Moralez’s work containing some standalone images and a pair of short comics. The most powerful comic is an untitled short about the dangers of voyeurism and the disturbing mysteries lurking in the world. In it, a teenage boy stands on the balcony of his high-rise apartment and uses a telescope to surveil neighbors in other buildings. He spies a disturbing scene: a boy about his age being crushed by a female monster who combines sex and death: a thin dress barely contains her drooping breasts and distended stomach, her black eyes leer, a wet mouth and lolling tongue share space with sharp teeth. In a moment straight from a nightmare (a moment that I’ve tried to capture in my own comics), the monster sees him and races towards his apartment. In a flash, she’s broken into his kitchen. When we next see the boy, he’s walking up the stairs towards us, his body posed awkwardly like marionette, his head turned 90 degrees, transformed by this encounter.
When taken on traditional terms, it’s an odd story. It’s hardly a story at all; it’s a fragment. There aren’t really any three-dimensional characters, no obvious motivation or logic. But none of that matters. Do you criticize a nightmare for not making sense? Does a lack of sense make it less frightening? Of course not. In fact, in most cases, it’s the knowledge that there’s a logic outside the understanding of the waking world and that we’re subject to it that makes the nightmare more frightening.
This is Moralez’s talent: mining and extracting and distilling the raw material of nightmares and painting it onto the screen and page.
Frontier #1 represents two firsts: the first release from Youth in Decline, longtime alternative comics anthologist Ryan Sands’ new publishing house, and the first North American publication devoted exclusively to Moralez. In fact, excepting one short anthology piece, it’s the first time Moralez has been in print in the U.S. This comic is an auspicious and promising debut for Youth in Decline. The only real criticism I can lodge against Frontier #1 is that it’s too short. Moralez is an important new voice in horror and comics art. The more of his work that’s available, the better.