For a journey into even stranger territory — perhaps the strangest, most alien territory you can visit through comic books at the moment — you might want to try Luke Ramsey’sIntelligent Sentient?.
If indeed Intelligent Sentient? is a comic book or graphic novel; it reads more like a picture book in which the publishers left out the text and mixed up some of the pages. There are no words in it at all, and no panels — other than those implied by the borders of the pages, as every page is its own discrete image (until a reader reaches the end of the book, where each spread becomes its own discrete image).
Whether one wants to call Ramsey’s book comics, it’s definitely sequential art, in that it’s bound art in sequence, and it’s telling a story, even if it’s somewhat abstract, and leaves plenty of room for interpretation.
It definitely involves snakes, however. Ramsey’s pages are full of snakes, of a very particular cartoon species, wherein they are basically just smooth, featureless squiggles with blank, black dot eyes. They appear on almost every page, sometimes right where you might expect a snake to be, but more often than not in unexpected places, like forming the mass of a trio of large snake-men, one of whom is dressed like an ancient South American god and another as an old-school biker stereotype, or forming a sort of hand, their long tongues manipulating a man like a marionette, and so on.
The wordless nature, and the incredible amount of detail in almost every page — details that change in style, from pieces that evoke old underground comics to others that evoke Hieronymus Bosch — along with the impression that everything is made of snakes, may remind certain readers of a trip in the hallucinogenic drug-taking sense as much as the travel sense.
The single images are generally quite astounding, each given so much attention and detail they look like they were individually produced for a gallery wall, like, for example, the first image, an explosion of prehistoric sea life, over 100 animals, filling every available space on the page, overlapping in a blast of rainbow colors, and all streaming toward a handful of those aforementioned snakes (see the top of the post).
Prehistoric life appears in several pages/images, as does what appear to be some sort of alien or other culture that captures and performs experiments on people, and, near the end, a large, ghostly person — or race of people, if they are different individuals — who travels through insanely detailed landscapes and locales of varying styles.
It’s an unsettling book in that it seems quite clear from the repeating motifs, and the beginning and ending, that there is a story being told, and while almost all of the symbols and signifiers are ones that are recognizable, their usage is cryptic. The result is a story that reads like a secret, a secret that can’t be unraveled without some sort of missing key or Rosetta Stone.
Like a beautiful stranger seen in the street, I can’t tell you what it’s all about, but I do like looking at and admiring the craftsmanship that must have went into it (and unlike a human being, it’s not rude to stare Intelligent Sentient?).