Australiana in Comics: Deep Breaths

Story and art by Chris Gooch 

Published by Top Shelf Productions

Length: 215 Pages

There is so much value to be found in mundanity. Within these quieter moments of living, the most profound introspection can occur, guided by pervading feelings of frustration, contentedness, or indifference. Chris Gooch’s Deep Breaths gives us an opportunity to relive these instances, but also extrapolate on them, often in confronting ways. As far as stories are concerned, we are presented with a collection that truly understand what it’s like to live; 

Within these surreal stories, testing the moral fibre of its characters, there is a hidden relatability. We come to the realisation that we cannot help but empathise with the entitled, with the struggling, with the unhinged. Their emphatic characteristics are in response to very real feelings present in every individual. Our collective difficulties manifest in extreme acts of polarity, yet tinged with unconcernedness. It’s almost therapeutic; these reactionary tales allow us to tackle our own sense of morality, where we might find similar injustices present. However, everything in this piece takes a second longer than it needs to; the pauses in between most actions leave the reader stranded. In these moments, we are forced to sit, think, and react vicariously, often in ways conflicting with our preconceived notions of the acceptable. 

Despite the complexity of each story, I also found within them a sense of complete-ness uncommon in short stories (ironically). Whether there were 8 or 28 pages, Gooch’s pacing allowed each story to end exactly when it needed to; at powerful climaxes, or quieter points for reflection. 

Just as his stories explore various facets of living, his art explores various forms of expression. At the beginning of each story, Gooch identifies the type of tool used to produce his comics, with a total of five spanning the entire collection. I must stress, intricacy is an important element of this piece, and it’s the finer details that really sharpen the reader’s experience.

In a sense, everything is purposeful in a comic, as it’s all intentionally created. But Gooch’s dynamic artistry results in the creation of something else, a byproduct of his illustrations. Whether it’s a feeling, idea or new technique, there are examples of his unique qualities present everywhere. There are multiple stories where speech bubbles play an active role in the comic, dropping from the top of the panel and becoming part of the environment. The way motion effects his stories (e.g. the iPhone swipe in Wednesdays) also adds intrigue. As a compliment to his often suspenseful stories, movement is technically accurate, but depicted almost wonkily. Even if the reader can anticipate where the character is going next, how or when they will make it is often uncertain. 

As an Australian writer, I can’t help but find the intricacies of my culture underrepresented in the mainstream comic scene. Gooch’s stories, however, dabble in Australiana, making the smallest of details of his settings even more meaningful. These aren’t comics that require a knowledge of Australia, but for those who know where they come from, it does provide enrichment.

In terms of consistency, each story complements the next nicely, even when discussing different themes. A pervading sense of exhaustion is present within each story, which also acts as an underlying link between Gooch’s pieces. However, Curse you, Skullface! seemed an odd choice for a collection meditating on the quieter moments of living. As a piece rooted in sci-fi action, it was quite loud. It was by no means a bad comic, but it did feel out of place, particularly when it was slotted between his other works (though it was a good choice to place it right at the end).

Irrespective of his age, or maybe because of that very fact, Chris Gooch’s Deep Breathsis an exceptional foray into contemporary living. We are given an opportunity to see our own issues within others, and responses almost as frightening as the accuracy needed to depict them. Within the quietest soul rests the most rage, and after putting this collection down, you can’t help but feel a little wiser, and a little older. 

Art – 9

Story – 9 

Writing – 9

Overall – 9/10

This product was provided to the reviewer in the form of a review copy. Irrespective of this fact, the article remains completely unbiased, and contains the reviewer’s thoughts only.

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