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Outburst’s Gorgeously Murky Artwork Doesn’t Rescue the Comic’s Morose Character

If a comic wallows in as much self pity as its protagonist, does that make the comic an all the more emotionally engrossing read or just unbearable to endure? That’s the challenge faced when reading Pieter Coudyzer‘s debut comic Outburst, a sombre, reflective and sometimes disturbing character study. The tubby, be-speckled Tom, who encompasses the entirety of the comic, is our protagonist. From cover to cover, we traverse with him as he struggles between being the awkward, unsociable misfit every school has ever had and his immersions into pastoral, woodland fantasies that help him evade the harsh reality of life.

Tom is an odd choice of protagonist, not because of the kind of character he is, but because his depiction is so merciless in showing how unfit he is for the world around him. Perhaps this is the secret ploy Outburst wants to play, it wants to show us how Tom is far better off in his forest fantasies, but the issue that plagues the comic is that there’s little opportunity to root for Tom as a lead character. When it comes to story-telling, being the protagonist doesn’t strictly mean you have to be likeable in any fashion, but when choosing to go down this route it can be a challenge to make your protagonist distinctive or to give them a goal to strive towards.

Neither of these things can be applied to Tom however. His bumbling awkwardness is what propels his metamorphosis into the forest-themed creature his self-loathing results in, but that awkwardness itself gives Tom a generic, token nerd flavour. Likewise, his transition to woodland creature is thrust upon him, without desire or knowledge. The story that Outburst wants to tell seems clear-cut enough, but Tom, our path leading into the story, bears no warmth and is beyond empathy, making that path an uncomfortable to walk along.

Outburst fares better as a story shown than a story told. Pieter wraps the comic in thick, murky colours that play neatly with both Tom’s submersed insecurities and the pastoral landscapes that grow in both number and significance as Tom’s transformation becomes uncontrollable. Weirdly, Outburst comes off as a rather confident package when visuals and themes are placed together, since Pieter shows a distinct ability in bringing the comic’s darkly fantastical identity to life through both Tom’s personality and Outburst‘s visuals. Outburst‘s panelling is equally effective, as Pieter displays a keen reliance on close-ups of characters faces, adding to the sense of tense unease throughout the comic.

Outburst is a flawed endeavour. Despite the stirring, immersive artwork and clarity in its ambition, the overall message is squandered by Tom’s inability to act as convincing character capable of portraying Outburst‘s earnest message of release. What should be an intense, intricate read dissolves into a underwhelming exercise in self-loathing.

You can discover more about Outburst from SelfMadeHero. Have you already read the comic? Let us know in the comments section below or send us a Tweet!

About the author

Fred McNamara