Black is the Colorundulates like the ocean in your nightmares – the swells providing a rhythmic back-beat to all the subconscious horrors your brain amasses during the day – telling you something you know but can't actually face, quietly reminding you of your mortality, your isolation, and the inevitable sense of loss all things eventually breed. While dragging its fingers softly across your lips to comfort, it confronts you with the stark truth that everyone and everything is eventuality subsumed into the darkness.
Julia Gfrörer has been creating comics like this for awhile now, but with Black is the Color she takes her bleak sensibilities and layers them into a seafaring tale that plays with your sense of time as much as your sense of self. Ostensibly, Black is the Color is about a 17th century sailor, Warren, who is cast off by his shipmates because their voyage has gone awry, their resources dwindled, and the greater good must be thought of first. As Warren floats in the vastness of Gfrörer's cross-hatched ocean, he is tempted by and succumbs to both the romantic advances of a mermaid and warm embrace of a quiet death. As he sits in the dinghy, Warren reflects on his place in the world through the connections he has made in his life. He has abandoned both his wife on shore and his lover on the ship and, by his parting, echoes the gulf that always exists between people, even those that we love the most. In the end, Gfrörer's character is released and his essence returns to the void, black and dispersed.
The Sheehan Brothers:"I’d like for us to make the kind of work that inspires people to make their own work."
New Zealand has a vibrant comics scene. As a torchbearer, the folks at 3 Bad Monkeys Press have been publishing a bianual anthology called Faction highlighting some of the best Kiwi creators around. In issue 2, one of the comics featured was A Day at the Races by The Sheehan Brothers. It's an amazing piece of comics craft and it led me down the internet rabbit hole of wanting to know more about who The Sheehan Brothers were and what else they have created. The Brothers were kind enough to hook me up with their series The Inhabitants, the reading of which was a transformative experience for me and left me still wanting to know more. Kelly and Darren Sheehan agreed to talk we with me about their backgrounds, The Inhabitants, the power of influences, and what creating comics means to them.
Daniel Elkin for Comics Bulletin: Before we start getting into the themes and the processes behind The Inhabitants, let's let you introduce yourselves. Who are the Sheehan Brothers and what sparked you guys to start creating comics?
Kelly: I’m the eldest brother in a family with four siblings. Darren is just below me in the pecking order. We also have an older sister and a younger brother. We both live in Auckland, New Zealand.
I’m 44, work at the Auckland Central Library and am married to Sinead Mohally with whom I share a son, Seamus, who is six years old.
We’ve been making comics since around 1996/97. The process was sparked by Darren’s letters to me when he was traveling overseas. On most of them there were cool little psychedelic sketches which I found quite inspiring. I ended up sitting down one day and writing a script titled ‘The Long Man’ and sending it off to Darren. We have probably averaged about one comic a year since then.
Darren: I live in Auckland with my wife Fran and our son Finn. My day job is a Gallery Technician at the Auckland Art Gallery.
The Long Man title came from a tattoo in Hindi script, worn, in fact, by a long gentleman from Canada. He had acquired it on his travels. He was in residence in a backpacker's hostel I worked at in Galway Ireland for a while.
While I was traveling around, buses /trains /ferries etc, I was filling sketchbooks. So, I had some sketches worked out when I returned home and we knocked out the first issue of the Longman. The first one was published while Kelly was traveling in India and Nepal. It ended up being 5 issues, a black and white silent (as was the fashion of the time) comic. Kelly has since described it as a dub fairy tale. I have always liked that description.
Kelly: I seem to remember Darren telling me that said Canadian backpacker had ridden a motorcycle on the wall of death of an Indian circus, but maybe my memory is playing tricks on me. If it’s not true it should be.
(Christos Gage / Joshua Dysart / Valentine De Landro / Joseph Cooper / John Livesay / ChrisCross, Victor Olazaba / Ian Hannin / Dave Sharpe; Valiant)
This zero issue serves as a sort of exposition explaining the history of the Valiant super hero team H.A.R.D. Corps. What Gage and Dysart produce, though, is an amazingly human story. They try to explain the hero in the concept, and, by doing so, speak to the heart of what it means to be alive. It's a story of intention marred by ambition, idealism sublimated by greed, humanity warped by ego – it's a surprisingly quiet, moving, and intense read from a book I expected to be full of guns a'blazing (though there are those here too).
The book is divided into decades as it follows the progression of the H.A.R.D. Corps program from its start during the Vietnam conflict to the 1990's when the program was decommissioned. H.A.R.D. Corps has always been military in intent, fostered by technology and patriotism – as time progressed and this story unfolds, though, the concept started to become more important than any ideals it once defined. In the process, over the course of these years, it is the human beings caught in its grasp that ultimately pay the price for being part of it.