Life on Earth by Stepan Chapman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Despite his Philip K. Dick-award-winning The Troika and a slot in the well-known Orbit series of anthologies, Stepan Chapman has a gift for obscurity. I tried, twice, to help him along, but for some reason Stepan remains a cult classic.
I think this is because Stepan is the proverbial Renaissance Man. He's written novels, short stories, is involved with puppetry and children's theater, and is noted in the small press for his quirky and surreal drawings.
And this last talent is what is on display in Life On Earth. These are not your normal drawings, either. The closest thing in the comic world is, I believe, Konny and Czu (an all-time favorite of mine and among my most prized comic possessions).
"Life on earth was depressed," the story begins. Story? Well, more like a fable. Here, Chapman has tied together a series of wildly disparate (and just plain wild) images in a sort of existentialist fairy tale. The story is not particularly strong, but on the whole, the book is quirky and just so darkly-cute that it makes the little goth crouching behind my heart snicker a bit. The imagery is out of this world - literally - there's no way you can place it on this Earth, and I wonder if the irony is intentional. That seems like something Stepan would do - just for laughs. Now, the book won't make you laugh, unless you have a very grim sense of humor. The characters depicted herein - from vaguely insectoid entities to malformed and tortured humans (this is not for kids, folks) - will make you cringe and, at the same time, fill you with self-loathing for that little smile that crept onto your face as you feigned disgust.
But it will make you think about your place on earth, about where you fit in, and mercilessly toss you between hope and cynicism. Where you end up after this game is over says a lot about what you think of Life On Earth.
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