Face Down in the Mud Review
Writer & Artist: David Cooper
A review by Michael Hein
Although we acknowledge that any creative act is a sort of exorcism, a form of therapy, we comic book fans don’t expect to see that on display too clearly. That’s why it’s refreshing to read a blunt and honest personal story in David Cooper’s Face Down In The Mud.
In a full color, twenty-page comic — much like you’d pick up off a spinner rack next to Superman — Cooper illustrates and narrates a life-altering trauma. The result is something fresh, powerful, and liberating, both for genre creators and people caught in a cycle of violence and victimhood.
The style of Face Down In The Mud slides effortlessly between conversational and confessional. Cooper lets the audience know right at the top of the story that he’s telling it for his own benefit; he’s expecting some relief for himself here. The bright, cartoonish illustrations show Cooper sitting in both the therapist’s chair and the laying on the patient’s couch. Then they cut to him stalking a hallway in his own mind. Following the lead of Cooper’s self-portrait avatar, we enter a door marked “January 2007,” and become immersed in a rich portrayal of a memory.
Cooper doesn’t simply draw out the events he’s describing cinematically. He frames vulnerable and sometimes surreal shots. The uncertainty of the images is, in many ways, more honest than a hyper-realistic rendering might have been. It conveys the hazy, hyperbolic world of memory, and the ways that trauma can fester in our minds and grow into something even more painful than the events themselves.
Cooper also confesses a lot in his self-portraits as the story goes on. He casts himself as naive in the beginning, never shy about foreshadowing where the story is going. He draws a huge and hulking imaginary self, though the narrative avatar still stands in the foreground, saying: “I was eighteen. I had nothing to worry about. I was invincible.”
Then, after the attack that the story takes its name from, Cooper’s self-portraits show us how damaged he felt, as well as how injured he was. We see the consequences of naiveté, psychologically even more so than physically, as Cooper stands shrunken to a child’s height before his parents. This time, there’s no narrator standing in the foreground to assure us this is a fantasy. It’s very real.
Cooper’s discussion of masculinity in this context is insightful and vital in today’s world. In the story, he is belittled for crying and defined by his victimhood. He hates himself for feeling sorry for himself in a cycle that may be all too familiar to some readers. But Cooper doesn’t stop pressing the envelope there. The story itself is interrupted by a mob of Cooper’s self-portraits. They fight with each other over what the “proper” reaction to this trauma is, rather than dealing with it. In dissecting these different aspects of himself, Cooper questions the extent to which he can be seen as a “real man,” before and after the attack, and what that might mean for his relationships. In a world of mounting violence, it’s a good question to ask ourselves when our blood is cold, before another confrontation even begins.
Buy it! Face Down In The Mud is fun and easy to read while conveying something honest and prescient. It represents a fun experiment with the genre by a creator who knows what he’s doing. The book is free on Imgur this week only! After that, it’s available through David Cooper’s website.