Eamon Espey’s “Songs of the Abyss” is an unsettling balance of the cartoonish, the grotesque, and the divine; an hallucinatory fever dream filled with surreal, nightmarish imagery, it’s also a vivid and meticulously rendered mosaic by an artist with a formidable command of his own composition.
The artwork is in stark black and white with a bold line quality which lends the panels a woodcut like texture, as if they were tablets recovered from some forgotten peyote cult obsessed in equal measure with Mayan iconography, Hieronymus Bosch, and Tijuana Bibles.
Attempting to explain the contents of this book would be a futile exercise. There is no immediately apparent narrative structure, nor is there any dialogue or exposition. This is an expressionistic phantasmagoria to be percieved and absorbed, not deconstructed or explained. Various allusions to cultures from the ancient to the modern emerge from the tightly coiled chaos, ranging from Quetzalcoatl like serpents, to skeletal figures in Native American head dresses, to a Bible and pistol wielding Santa Claus. There are also fornicating demons, a triad of Siamese twins, and a bearded woman with worms writhing from her eye sockets. These are less linear stories being told than the graphic novel as a viscerally disorienting Rorschach blot.
The book is divided into segments, book ended by quotes from William Blake and the Gospel of Thomas, yet there is a cohesive, mesmerizing whole to it. Pages are filled with a vulgar menagerie of gruesome caricatures vaguely recognizable as crude, mythic hybrids of man and beast, engaged in various violent or prurient acts with one another or merely serving as incidental elements in full page explosions of menacing, psychedelic collage. Brief moments of spare and economical beauty appear occasionally, all the more unsettling for the maximalist bedlam that surrounds them.
The element that holds it all together is, again, Espey’s striking artistic ability. In spite of the strange and often disturbing subject matter portrayed, the most powerful and resonant dimension of “Songs of the Abyss” is the artful draftsmanship and the brilliant execution of it. There is an hypnotic cumulative effect to it, an almost narcotic sensory response to the sustained visual assault. The book alternates between traditional six panel pages, full page illustrations, and many permutations in between; despite it’s own abstract obliqueness, it unfolds in an oddly fluid way, with a logic that resonates from the deepest recesses of the human id.
An appendix appears at the end, where Espey explains the different chapters of the book page by page. Different sources of inspiration are cited, from the Book of Genesis to the mythology of America’s original Native cultures. Whether this serves to elucidate the preceding pages or to further obfuscate seems indeterminate. The most important line in this text which ends the book seems to be “my story was created out of research and dreams”; these are tales of creation as ancient as time channeled through one man’s own singular subconscious. This poetic epilogue remains an optional addendum to the reader, as the comic itself more than stands alone in it’s own dark and bewildering beauty.
“Songs of the Abyss” is 154 pages long, and can be acquired from the publisher Secret Acres for eighteen dollars.