Whithout the shadow of a doubt, based on his first comic books self-published under the Mano-Blanco Comics label — Leif Tande has talent, and never refrains from trying out the wildest ideas, be it the story of “the man who tought a hundred times faster than the other men” or re-inventing the art of comics in his Histoire Spaciale. A few of those unleased experimentations could be found in Villégiature, but his more recent Palet Dégeulasse was more conventional, keeping his line reminiscent of Tirabosco, but leaving inventivity on the bench.
All this to say that Morlac sees Leif Tande coming back in style with this incredible and amazing object, delivering without a doubt the first comic book in three (narrative) dimensions.
Some readers might remember a few pages by Patrick McEown included in the first Weasel by Dave Cooper, where a little group of characters were engaged in pursuit from panel to panel, using the layout structure for its spacial dimension rather than its acceptation of temporal organisation — thus using ladders or stairs to change “strips”, or opening a door to cross the “gutter”.
Morlac more or less uses the same concepts, but uses the standard 3 x 4 grid of a page as as many parallel universes, following the adventures of a “man in black”, with the obligatory bowler hat and attaché-case. From a single panel on the first page, this character will multiply with each possibility and each branching — and this, until the conclusion and the loop back to the starting point.
Ambitious in his concept, Leif Tande brings even more complexity by keeping the spacial aspect of the panel organization — allowing some characters to go down one level, to step from one corridor-panel to another, or even to cross narrative lines to play with paradoxes — a dazzling exercise.
And if all this wasn’t sufficient enough, there is the repeated tendancy of the panels to “resonnate” with each other, precipitating a “folding of possibilities” with the fusion (often violent) of the involved panels — and their characters.
If reading such a book is quite fun, it is also particularly difficult, and will see the reader frequently going back a few pages in a mental juggling exercise to try and follow all the threads. Considering the importance of the spacial organisation in the page structure, a version printed only on the right-hand page might have avoided the instictive inversion that takes place when turning the page.
Labyrintic and diabolically inventive over its 144 pages, Morlac is a dazzling OuBaPian project which, like a lot of formal experiments, impresses more by the “tour de force” it represents than by the contents of the story.