A magical mystery tour of Theo Ellsworth’s brain

A magical mystery tour of Theo Ellsworth’s brain

By ADITYA MANI JHA | | 5 January, 2013

Capacity (2010)

Writer/ Artist: Theo Ellsworth

Theo Ellsworth is a self-taught artist, and once you look at his rather idiosyncratic drawings, there's much to be said for that. There are a lot of monsters with goofy expressions, mechanical toys, mystical cityscapes and what seem to be contraptions made by either an impressionist or a person in the throes of LSD. Capacity is a novel which is built around the process of making the mini-comics series of the same name. The focus is on how the author found a way to streamline his whimsical creative methods, by finding a way to smuggle in his brain inside his subconscious. As pretentious and unwieldy as that may sound, Ellsworth ties this little conceit up so neatly with the mini-comics that you find yourself gasping at a new leap of logic every few pages. There are friendly but morose magicians, powerful but benign monsters, Swamp-Thing like elemental creatures and a labyrinthine world inside Ellsworth's buzzing, brimming head and his obsessive cross-hatching style somehow makes it come alive.

In a recent interview with Mark Sobel, Ellsworth opened up about his decision to not attend art school. "I was originally thinking of going to an art school and I even took a couple classes at the University here just to see if that was something I would want to do, but it was just so regimented and...all the critiquing and steering in different directions. They didn't want me to draw because oil painting was a more serious art. I felt like every natural inclination I wanted to do was basically considered bad art at school, so I realized I needed to find my own way." It has to be said that Ellsworth has achieved precisely that; in the phantasmagoria of his visions, there are faint echoes of a Dr Seuss or even a Maurice Sendak; but as a whole, Ellsworth is that real deal in the comics world; a bona fide original. By the end of Capacity, you might feel a little underwhelmed with the prose (or the verse, because he's fond of the occasional rhyme) but it's the art which refuses to leave you. Ellsworth's third book, titled The Understanding Monster was released recently, and is another exercise in his signature fusion of metafiction, poetry and hallucinatory art. Part of a planned trilogy, it might just be the wisest investment you make this New Year.

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