In a lot of ways Scott McCloud’s three books are my bibles. It’s because of them I love comics as much as I do. It’s because of them I love to make comics as much as I do. And while I certainly don’t pray to Scott McCloud I do follow his recommendations near religiously. Those three books have served as wonderful roadmaps through comics. To this day I still watch for things he mentions, books he uses art from. That’s how I first came across Brian Ralph’s Cave-In. Since first seeing it in the pages of Understanding Comics. I’ve seen it referred to multiple times by art books and critics. It seemed everyone had some love to give Cave-In. A few years after becoming aware of it I came across it. Then I read this supposed masterpiece. It took me a few spare minutes.
So I read it again.
Brian Ralph’s comic is entirely silent. It uses no more than two colors at one time; the color of the page and the color of the linework. The lines change color to denote different portions of the story. Consequently it feels more than a little like a story-book, in the best way. It’s a pure, unaltered story.
Cave-In is about a small, manlike, underground dweller. He sleeps in a tent, meets a rodent, and has an adventure. He faces giant worms, rotting, partially digested men, clever fish, Lilliputian men, meets a mummy who might just be his mother, loses the mummy to a monstrous snake and a cave-in, gets attacked by bats, and goes back to sleep. Maybe the whole thing is a dream. Maybe it’s not. It doesn’t really matter.
The story is dreamlike and surreal, but emotional. It’s scary, touching, sad, and even disturbing. The scene where the gleeful protagonist destroys the home of the Lilliputians is fairly gut wrenching, but one still can’t help but sympathize with him when he loses his newfound mummy friend.
Brian Ralph’s almost woodcut style art is amazing. A typically stiff medium becomes fluid in his capable hands. Panels flow together beautifully, delicately spoon-feeding the reader all the information they need to know. This is a comic anyone could pick up and read. It’s just as effective a children’s book as it is a wonderful example of the comic book form that adults could read and enjoy.