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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, September 30, 2017

NULL-MYTHS: RIBIT 1-4 (1989)

In GOOD WILL QUANTUMS PT.3, I summed up the "null-myth" thusly:

Nowadays, I would not associate my idea of the "null-myth" with this base denotative functionality: over time it's come to mean a work that had "super-functional" potential coded into the narrative but which became denatured by authorial confusion or misjudgment. 
In most of the examples I've analyzed so far, most of the time the "authorial confusion" stems from the author using mythopeoic symbols in a desultory manner, as if they were mere functionalities, or allowed the symbols to be reined in by didactic considerations. However, there's also the possibility that the author may allow himself to be overwhelmed by his own symbolic prolificity. Like the monarch who complained that Mozart had "two many notes," an author can produce "too many symbols" for his narrative to support. Case in point: Frank Thorne's four-issue Comico title, RIBIT.

RIBIT is almost impossible to summarize. It takes place in some vague future in which there abound references to 20th-century culture, but there's no physical resemblance to any 20th-century settings. Thorne's world is a phantasmagoria out of Bosch, in which both magic and science are hopelessly intermingled. In essence, it's a one-shot feature that allowed Thorne to draw any damn thing he felt like drawing, whether it worked within the context of a narrative or not.

For most of the story, the title character looks like a three-foot-tall version of Thorne's most famous comics-character, Red Sonja. Ribit starts out as the lizard-like familiar of a sorceress named Sahtee, and though Ribit is not human, she nurtures a devotion for Thog, a big ox of a human who works for Sahtee, Sahtee, like a lot of fantasy-sorcerers, has rivals, and she tries to create a formidable warrior-woman as a servant. The creation goes awry with Sahtee's magic combines with little Ribit, who then turns into slightly bigger Ribit. Ribit has no real loyalty to Sahtee, though, being totally devoted to Thog. Nevertheless, events transpire to get Ribit, Thog and Sahtee-- who gets transformed into a furry little homunculus-- involved in a lot of crazy fantasy-world shenanigans. 

I note with amusement that in the Grand Comics Database entry for this series, the contributor didn't list any character except Ribit-- which may indicate that he simply threw up his hands at Frank Thorne's tendency to whip out a new character every few pages. The result is definitely an "embarrassment of riches," in the sense that the art always looks impressive and imaginative, but there's not much context to any of it, except that one can be sure that whatever Thorne drew amused the heck out of him. 

(Incidentally, from the angle of the combative mode, Ribit occasionally demonstrates some fighting-talent, but the stories are so shapeless that Thorne clearly had no intention in creating a warrior-woman to rival Red Sonja. Indeed, by series' end Ribit goes back to being a lizard-- which makes one wonder what kind of lizard Thorne ever heard, that made the sort of sound associated with frogs?)

In my review of PRINCESS KNIGHT, I said that the "problematic structure" of certain works by Tezuka might 'stem from the same "problem" one finds in the works of Jack Kirby: both artists were just so damn creative they sometimes overwhelmed their own narratives with "new stuff."' Yet I felt that PRINCESS KNIGHT still had some structure, enough that I termed it a "near myth." RIBIT reminds me of the later issues of the RED SONJA. Supposedly Thorne worked on these with two writers, the very wordy Roy Thomas and comics-newcomer Clair Noto, but these issues-- aside from issue #1, reviewed here-- look like Thorne just drew whatever struck him as fun to draw. This was a sad state of affairs, because Thorne's artwork was at its best depicting Sonja's world of fantasy-- but the stories wandered and made no sense.

To sum up, RIBIT is an example of "underthinking" rather than "overthinking." Or as I put it in AFFECTIVE FREEDOM, COGNITIVE RESTRAINT:

...freedom without a complementary form of internal restraint is, as Janis Joplin sang, “just another word for nothing left to lose.”  Even in fiction, where the boundaries of affective freedom *may * sometimes exceed those of religious mythology, cognitive restraint is necessary to make the essentially mythic ideas relevant to living human beings.

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