Fantagraphics always puts out unique-looking books; that’s kind of their thing. But “3D Sweeties”, with its lowbrow sensibility, high-key colours, and smooth, Fisher Price-worthy shapes, feels more like a confection than a comic, and that makes its satirical tone all the more biting.
Written and illustrated by Julian Glander
In a digitally drawn, three-dimensional universe, characters grapple with interior decorating woes, amorous microbiology, and where to find the absolute most aspirational succulents. Readers will fall in love with “America’s favorite mug,” Cuppy; hear the familial bickering of sentient purple slime molds; and encounter Sarah Something and her musings about gaming culture and conceptual art.
Get ready for some food metaphors: it’s hard not to resort to them when looking over Julian Glander’s art. The people look like they’re made of fondant; the living spaces look like they’re carved out of marzipan. With its candy-bright colours and gummy textures, the whole thing could be the reverie of a sentient Peep. It all teeters on the edge of a headache, with the limited colour palette of each vignette pulling the reader back from the precipice.
And they are vignettes, a few pages each, a lot of them ending before you’d expect them to. Thematically, the stories all hit a similar note: 21st-century ennui with a silly side. There’s a story about a couple in a foreign country, where a linguistic misunderstanding ends in a disaster. Another features hooligans of the far future, summoning the ghost of a millennial. You’ll even see a dog follow a makeup tutorial, and who doesn’t want that?
As you can probably tell, a lot of the stories have the structure of a joke, although they don’t end with the punchlike you’d expect: the final line is half-baked, with a surreal twist, like a toddler who forgot what he was saying partway through. The “ennui” factor comes in when you realize the same scenarios are coming up over and over: people overthinking situations, second-guessing each other, getting caught up in technology, getting overwhelmed by tidal waves of insects. You know, typical Gen Y stuff.
At the centre of it all stands Cuppy: one part celebrity, one part iconoclast, and with a terrifying face that winds up chasing you through the whole book.
The dialogue is often fun as heck, striking a note somewhere between “text-speak as imagined by Mr. Burns” and “exhausted McElroy brothers doing whippets”. The result is something like “Sorry Zoobs! Thought u were a gel sole insert!” – a concatenation of words carried straight past ironic and into the realm of weird poetry.
At its worst, the book is too random-for-the-sake-of-random, hitting us with slime mold vignette after slime mold vignette, throwing lots of concepts at the wall and few of them sticking (and you’d think slime mold would stick). As a general rule, the less character development there is, the more aimless it all seems, but that’s not to say some of a shorter stories don’t have an avant-garde charm of their own. One wordless comic is weirdly memorable, although it might be the sheer Aesthetic™ that Glander conjures. He has a knack for juicy-looking living rooms.
In any case, we’re on solid ground in the final chunk of the book. This section follows Sarah Something, a “vaguely creative” millennial livestreamer in search of… well, something beyond what she already has. The story takes some time to gain focus – there’s a sidetrack into a childhood game left abandoned too long, and another into the Mandela Effect. Her quest finally leads her to a sophisticated, psychedelic VR game, and it’s here that we get the best visual sequence in the book. Bright, glitched-out, and hallucinogenic, her journey through the “Qube” is like a vaporwave nightmare.
I’m not going to try to pull a big, philosophical lesson out of Susan’s story, but the dose of coherence that her story offers is sobering. There’s a tonal shift, past general ennui and into something like cultural critique. What if your epic, interior journey only leads you to emptiness? And what if that emptiness has a terrifying face?
I don’t know how to characterize a book like this except to say it’s one-of-a-kind, building on a lowbrow aesthetic and taking the reader on a series of bracing jaunts. It’s futuristic and familiar, banal and bizarro, and while the substance of most of the stories won’t stick in your head, the overall vibe will. I’m going to look at it as a vaccine, inoculating us against a neon-toned dystopia where the slime molds really have taken over. It never hurts to be prepared.