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Manta (review)

Creator: Jorden Allen-Barr

Self-published, 2021

Jorden Allen-Barr is an Australian comic book creator who has been dabbling in ‘zines for some time. He is possibly a little too young and a little too new in the publishing industry for a retrospective (which is how this review started), but it is his collected works we are interested in. Mr Allen-Barr’s two major works are entitled Manta and Curse Birds, both rendered in black and white.

That is our major complaint about Manta. A psychedelic trip such as this should be lurid in colour, and it does no service to the story to be rendered in monochrome. We doubt the sky is blue in this world, and the images we see make us wonder what this story would look like in shocking orange, pink, and lime. The story is wonderfully surreal. What sense can we make of something sitting in such a wide orbit around verisimilitude?

‘Zines have no pretention. They are low rent and self-made. Some of them can be very high quality (such as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which we have previously reviewed – see Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (review) – World Comic Book Review ). Manta is a little different from the traditional magazine format of a ‘zine. There are no staples holding together divided A4 pages. Instead, each issue has been carefully sliced and folded so as to constitute a single piece of paper holding itself together unaided by mechanical means. The final panel is an A-3 poster, hidden within the folds of the comic proper. Each issue of Manta would work only as a zine. (Mr Allen-Barr helpfully provides instructions on the back page explaining how to unfold the pages.)

In an age of scans and e-books, Mr Allen-Barr tells us something. A text is not just a vehicle to communicate a message for the eyes. In addition to being a method of binding, Manta also contains a tactile puzzle for the reader, the folding of pages in an irregular and enigmatic way. An electronic version of the comic would lose this additional surrealist feature. Mr Allen-Barr has said that he intends to collect Manta as a single issue, and we worry that the origami nature of the individual ‘zine might be lost.

Manta is entirely wordless and soundless. This places an extra effort upon Mr Allen-Barr and his world-building through his art. And what a curious world it is. There is no drawdown from traditional fantasy concepts. A childish imp has stolen an artefact. There is no malice in the thief’s getaway by air. It all seems quite innocent. But the artefact’s protector, a strange creature with the face of a robot tapir and disembodied metal gauntlets, gives chase. Piratical types, one being a worm inexplicably wearing sunglasses while using a telescope, sit in the ruin of a winged vehicle. Three of them zoom out into the sky on strange vehicles reminiscent of life rings, trying to intercept the thief in issue 3. All of the creatures in this series have eyes and heads. There is a horizontal landscape of mountains and rivers. But there is little else which is familiar. It some respects, the series recalls Jeff Smith’s Bone.

We first encountered Mr Allen-Barr’s work at the Perth Comic Art Festival in 2021. Mr Allen-Barr’s complete work is available on . Be quick, for many issues have already sold out.