Visual Stimuli Abounds in “Mycelium Seep” #1: Review
“Mycelium Seep” #1 examines technology and identity in a dizzying visual feast but needs to curtail its storytelling ambitions for clarity and maximum impact.
Creator: Nir Levie
“Mycelium Seep” #1 is a beautiful comic. The art is weird and the world Levie’s imagined is incredibly intricate, interesting and generative. Huge, detailed backgrounds showcase Levie’s fine line without sacrificing the organic quality that’s key to the world of “Mycelium Seep.” Many locations in the comic are jammed with edifices, but they’re definitely not clinical. Levie adds a disturbing and subtle roughness to the underground especially, but it’s present on the surface as well. Buildings and culture sprout from the ground just as easily as roots, parasites and everything else in this book, and there’s consistency in style. Physical detail ranges from odd to grotesque, and each page is a riot of information that does contain a lot of subtlety if you’re willing to dig in.
The main barrier to digging in, however, is the overwhelm. Unfortunately, “Mycelium Seep” buries its plot in visual stimuli, to the point where I had to look up a plot synopsis to follow along. Relegating the art as a whole to “clutter” isn’t a fair judgment because of everything mentioned above, but it does become clutter as Levie aims for such a complex and experimental storytelling structure. There are too many POVs, too many locations and too many quick cuts between each to give us an easy in, which means the premise and its execution need to be impeccably strange and tantalizing to merit an audience’s rigorous attention. It’s not entirely clear what the creatures on the surface are or what they want, and Khalek’s world is filled with locale-specific jargon that further alienates. Neither Khalek nor Laura’s motivations or character are clear in this first volume. Levie’s work is translated, which adds to some of the confusion at times, and there are vignette pages with chunks of prose that are somewhat obtuse and add to the general weight of the book.
There are moments when Levie nails the weirdness, especially when Laura and Khalek first merge. The mirror shots are well done, as is the body horror moment of Laura vomiting up – or is it inhaling? – all those humanoids. Levie pumps up the shading and angular detail to great effect. It’s a visual punch that conveys its plot point clearly, with good concise layout work unifying the page. Our dislocation comes from the intense discomfort of the moment itself, and it’s nearly perfect. Other POV shifts in the book don’t work as well and it is very rarely clear who we are or where we are in those first-person moments. While it might be an interesting perspective to draw from, it’s not necessarily inviting to a reader – especially when we don’t stay with the same few folks each time. Sticking to first-person for Laura and Khalek would help readers absorb the story much better, and allow Levie to really blow our minds with the art.
Levie does a good job adding some depth to the page with shading, but the black and white interiors of “Mycelium Seep” mean a lot of detail blends together. Colors add depth, tone and mood and can help pace action just as well as top-notch panel structuring, and this is a book that would do well to consider using them to add texture and depth to the page. There’s a lot of work to be done on black and white interiors to avoid flat perspectives or overwhelm, and Levie’s art doesn’t always strike this balance. The lettering is ornate and the balloon styling is unique, with curly tails that amp up the unreality of it all, but the lettering sometimes butts into the panel borders or is partially obscured.
“Mycelium Seep” asks a lot of its audience without serving up much clarity in return. The confusion seems intentional but isn’t delivered in a targeted way. A streamlining of perspective and fewer locations would help cement the book as the wild, weird and unique thing it wants to be. Levie’s to be applauded for sheer imagination and the attempt to convey it, but allowing your audiences an in doesn’t mean you have to make them entirely comfortable all the time. “Mycelium Seep” needs a better balance to truly succeed as an experimental work.