‘Prism Stalker’ a balance of alien atmosphere and mythical storytelling
By Mickey Rivera. I’m going to be blunt: Prism Stalker is a strange comic, and that’s a good thing. You’re not likely to encounter anything like it again soon. Following the story of plague refugee Vep, it drops readers into an alien hive that shifts colors depending on the time of day. People sleep in soft, tongue-shaped polyps filled with yellow fluff. They serve faceless, tendril-bearing creatures on a living asteroid. But for all it’s over-the-top insanity, it manages to balance its completely alien atmosphere with mythical storytelling.
This is writer and artist Sloane Leong’s first solo effort for a major publisher. Besides contributing to Brandon Graham’s interplanetary epic Prophet, Leong honed a poetic and personal style in her self-published indie comics. Leong’s self-published works, such as A Body Made of Seeing and Surfacing are graceful meditations ruminating on subjects close to her: self-perception, ethnicity, healing, loss. She has pulled out all the stops with Prism Stalker. A stark departure from her previous indie comics, this book is a dazzling, iridescent form of alien life. It is almost certainly one of the most outlandishly original comics put out by Image, and a testament to the publisher’s dedication to creative freedom. It’s a glowing dollop of true indie-comic imagination.
Vep and her people have been driven out of their home by an unknown plague. Their saviors — a strange, militant race of four-legged yellow monsters who have “quarantined” them to specific areas of their home asteroid — immediately become their captors. These creatures keep the rescued and now homeless humans as indentured servants. What exactly it is the humans labor at is unclear, but it involves singing to glowing strands of pink sinew until an egg pops out. Besides their labor, these refugees are left to their own devices, performing rituals and keeping close to each other to make the best of their new, incomprehensible world.
Leong draws from her heritage as a native Hawaiian to construct Prism Stalker’s bones and joints. Her words fly off into poetic reveries that illustrate Vep’s past and present: the family that is trapped in an adopted culture and faith, the nascent urge to rebel against the outwardly kind, inwardly militant aliens that have simultaneously saved and enslaved her people. It’s a compelling allegory to draw, and Leong’s intimacy with the subject shows through in her writing and the emotion she puts across in her art.
Prism Stalker’s premise talks about the post-colonial, “subaltern” experience, which was so formative to the author’s life, without directly touching it. This is both a positive and a negative. Leong has created a vibrant and complex world full of strange lifeforms and all too familiar politics. The question is whether the world is imaginative and personal to the point of being alienating. Leong barely touches reality at all, at least in terms of recognizable terrestrial life. From beginning to end, readers are thrown into Vep’s world, in all it’s sinewy, crepuscular wetness, with barely a moment’s reprieve from traumatic memories and egg-singing detail to catch our breath and take in our surroundings.
For many this won’t be a book to cozy up with. Narratively speaking, it’s the kind of book you might turn to if you wanted to relive some of your more uncomfortable and incomprehensible acid trips — the kind of experiences you can’t recount to your friends without making things awkward, but which were intensely meaningful to you. It’s hard to find clear footing into Prism Stalker’s prismatic fever dream of bulbous tentacle faces and egg-bearing tissues, but it is worth the effort for the sake of the colorful, original world it introduces.
Written and illustrated by Sloane Leong
Letters by Ariana Maher.
7 out of 10
Check out our ECCC 2018 interview with Sloane Leong here.
Take a look at this four-page preview of ‘Prism Stalker’, courtesy of Image Comics!