Grief, Motherhood, And Survival In Zojaqan #1

by Noah Sharma

 

Zojaqan is not like other comics. Whatever else there is to say about it, this series pretty immediately sets out to do some different things. And that suits Zojaqan, because it’s a story about reinventing the rules after they fail you.

The latest new release from Vault Comics, Zojaqan is the story of Shannon Kind, a story that begins when she awakens, alone, in a primordial sea. This first issue sees her adapting to the idea of survival, not just in the sense of managing to navigate the strange world around her, but also the simple choice to keep going, something she’s been doing on autopilot for far too long.

Zojaqan throws you in with nothing and doesn’t debase itself by offering you answers or context. Those who hate being confused through a story will not have fun with Zojaqan, but those who are willing to wait for the ending will at least walk out with an impressionistic idea of who and what.

In this regard, the issue’s greatest weakness is the ambiguity of its central conceit. Introduced at about the halfway mark through a literary allusion, I could easily see some readers not catching that Shannon is moving erratically through time. It’s something that I think most will pick up on eventually, but if that one reference is utterly foreign to you or you don’t process it for some reason, the whole thing could get even more hazy for you.

Zojaqan is a fine example of a comic that needs to be read actively, but it’s not just that some information is provided gently. The whole book has a unique and lovely structure.

Alone in this new world, Shannon has only her past to lean on. As such, the dialogue is largely seen in flashbacks. The narration clues us into her thoughts in the moment, but crucial moments require context that the reader may not yet have and the creation myth that runs alongside the story is, at first, ambiguous in how directly it comments on the actions of the story. By the end of the issue, we have strong hints as to what has and will happen to explain these things, but, during a first read, it provides a hazy view of time that mirror’s Shannon’s crumbling connection to the present

This also presents a really interesting balance between the writing and the art. Text can simply reiterate what the art portrays, attempt to comment upon it, convey what the art cannot, or retreat altogether and allow the art to tell the story alone. In Zojaqan we see elements of almost all of these approaches. Collin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing take an incredibly light hand with their writing, leaving a huge portion of this comic in the care of artist Nathan Gooden.

Much of the flashback material utilizes a more traditional text/art relationship and, admittedly, this is where much of the meat of the story lies, but, in Zojaqan, actions speak louder than words. Though text is usually present to reflect on events or clarify a thought, solutions and discoveries tend to be depicted through the art and these moments of silence are well utilized. There’s no text to slow you down in moments of greatest action nor a word balloon blocking the Gooden’s gorgeous reveals.

Speaking of Gooden, his organically geometric artwork is a huge part of the issue’s appeal. Gooden’s aesthetic is stretched yet immediate, like tensed muscle. Balanced by a surprisingly back to basics approach to comic motion, the art is alien yet familiar and easy to want to explore. Gooden is also talented at depicting the weariness in Shannon’s face, an absolute necessity for this story.

There’s a lot of storytelling that is left to Gooden to communicate and, particularly through reactions and establishing shots, he certainly delivers. Critical moments in time and sudden realizations on Shannon’s part come through loud and clear.

There are significant problems in regards to storytelling, however. Many panels are repetitive, some feeling like they’re treading water until the script offers something new and others simply sharing too much of their predecessors. And the issue’s problems with ambiguity make this minor flaw a real difficulty at times, because it only makes it harder to notice when/that Shannon moves to another time period.

There are certainly many clues to help guide readers, however, when Shannon’s predators change more between panels than they do in millions of years it can become confusing to pick out when we are based purely on the shock of sudden changes.

Still, those predators are pretty awesome and as Shannon gets used to them, we get some truly striking images.

Gooden imbues the landscapes of Zojaqan with particular detail and beauty and our hero with a direly underrepresented range of emotion, but he doesn’t seem to have the strongest grasp of clothing. That sounds silly, but it legitimately is one of the issue’s biggest distractions.

There’s a fantastic understanding of how to use the body’s proportions and clothes of different weights to give a panel visual interest that’s present in Gooden’s work here, but Shannon’s tank top is super tight while her jeans ride more like cargo pants. It’s really cool looking aesthetically, but it’s weird in the context of normal clothes we see every day and it highlights how swaybacked Shannon is in many panels. It is not a serious issue for the book, nor is it in any way a bad case of comic book ass shots, but it is oddly distracting and decidedly strange.

Zojaqan’s greatest problems are twofold. First, it isn’t always clear. And, second, not a lot happens.

It really is an experience. It’s very much less about what happens than the journey of it happening and, thankfully, it makes that journey an interesting one. That’s crucial because your decision on whether to pick up the next issue will hinge less on the traditional ‘are you invested in the story’ than whether you enjoyed the experience of reading this one.

There are lots of interesting wrinkles in this story and the wild, impressionistic way that the story is told does a fantastic job of encouraging those seeds to grow in your mind. Zojaqan is a type of strange, beautiful science-fantasy we don’t often see.

Zojaqan #1 offers over forty pages of loving, careful storytelling about survival, grief, and motherhood. The book is subtle and dream-like, though sometimes confusing, and the art is intense. At $3.99 for forty-four pages, this is a great opportunity to try something new and different, however, some self-knowledge about what kind of reader you are will do you some good before you make the final call.