Ezra Claytan Daniels & Ben Passmore, BTTM FDRS (http://www.ezracdaniels.com/#/bttmfdrs/)
BTTM FDRS is the longest piece of sustained storytelling that I bought at last December’s CALA (Comics Arts LA) festival. Creepy and charming, it mashes up oozy, sick horror and dark, politically barbed comedy. The story satirizes racism, structural and environmental, via a blighted Chicago neighborhood and an imposing, temple-like block of an apartment building there that serves as the setting. A hyperbolic SF riff on urban decay, BTTM FDRS also skewers the kind of White hipster hypocrisy that extols urban decay for its authenticity. It does all this with a cast of distinctive characters, funny, stinging dialogue, and moments of queasiness built around a body horror conceit: that of a building that literally gets inside your guts. It’s one of a kind.
I bought BTTM FDRS partly because writer Ezra Claytan Daniels (www.ezracdaniels.com) had a nice booth at CALA and I enjoyed talking to him. Also, I bought it because it is drawn by Ben Passmore (www.benpassmoreart.com), whose terrific cartooning I, like many people I bet, discovered through Your Black Friend, which my comics class will be reading soon. Passmore is great. Daniels is no slouch either; it turns out (I’ve been asleep) that he’s been producing intriguing comic books, as well as digital comics (e.g. Upgrade Soul), design work, and multimedia projects, for, oh, the past fifteen years or so. His resume is something.
The copy of BTTM FDRS I bought is labelled a “limited sneak peek edition”; a wider release is forthcoming. What I have is an unpaginated, roughly 150-page trade, sans barcode or other fuss. It’s all story. What’s more, the storytelling is dense, with mostly four-tier pages of seven, eight, or nine panels each. The colors (assisted by another cartooning ace, Luke Howard) are assaultively bright, non-mimetic, and perfect—the book burns the eye, in a good way. Passmore’s cartooning is elastic and freaky, treading a knife’s-edge between humor and horror. And the story, despite some puzzling, genre-dictated moves, is knowing and needling on matters of race, White fragility, and the everyday BS we say to each other. The sublime horror dissipates near the end, since explanations and resolutions are required, but Daniels and Passmore don’t let us entirely off the hook.
In sum, BTTM FDRS is sharp, like a harpoon in the belly of Trumpism. Look for it when it goes big.