Taking the idea of the single-panel gag strip and striping out the gag to replace it with something far more unsettling, Terminus by Dan White is a nightmarish collection of strange ideas, imagery that will take root in your head. It’s the sort of experimentation in the comic form that only works because White is such a skilled comics maker.
Dan White’s Terminus brings you a collection of beautifully strange single-page strips designed to amuse, bemuse, confuse and disturb – and they do all of that and so much more. An experiment in subverting the idea of the one-panel strip that gets inside your head so well.
Frankly, I can’t do any better here than the glorious quote on the back cover…
Although it wasn’t meant as a compliment, it’s just a simply perfect distillation of the wonders you’ll find inside Terminus. It’s no wonder Dan White loved it so much, it’s a summation of how Terminus will grab hold of you and make you have strange feelings long after you’ve finished it.
Basically, Terminus is 73 pages of experiments in single-panel strips. You know, like this…
Terminus is an exercise in paring down, in taking the single panel gag cartoon and seeing how far he can push it. And oh boy, he pushes it so far. I’m sure White would hate the comparison, but the phrase “Far Side by David Lynch” popped into my head halfway through reading the book and it just wouldn’t go away.
As White says in his introduction, these strips were done over 10 years ago on the Mindless Ones website and he chose the name Terminus specifically to invoke the idea of the end of the line, of finding yourself, “somewhere weird you’ve never been before. Where anything can happen but you’re not sure you want it to.”
And it’s quite the perfect title. As that’s just the sense of displacement and unease you’ll get on every single page in here.
Bizarre, poignant, weird, horrific, puzzling, nightmarish, silly, unusual, peculiar, and the downright odd. Take any of those descriptions and you can most likely apply them to any of the strips White’s crafted here ever so wonderfully.
White takes the single-panel gag strip and deliberately strips the gag element away and transforms the idea into whatever he wants to do. It’s full of strips that manage to create entire worlds in your head – whether you really want some of them in there or not. You just can’t help it – the ideas take hold and you find yourself imagining how the hell something like that was allowed to happen.
White’s work has always had that element of horror in it, but in Terminus there’s so much more than just throwing up some nasty image on the page and letting us think about it. No, it’s way cleverer than that. It takes an idea and plants the seeds in your head, giving you that moment of unease that your brain latches on to and expands into a full narrative. You want to know the how, why, and where of it all and it’s all triggered by something as simple as one panel…
Yep, the chill goes down your spine, doesn’t it?
That’s not to say it’s all horror and darkness. But most of what’s in here has some element of the bizarre, there’s a lot of nightmare-inducing imagery, even in the pages where it’s all lovely and bright… all accomplished because White manages to convey so much in so few lines. Take this one below – it works not because of the words under the panel. No, it works because of the beatific expression on Emily’s face…
Originally, I went far longer in this review, waffling on and on about what makes Terminus work so well. And then I read over it for a final proof and realised that most of what I’d written just wasn’t needed. The pages in Terminus say everything I was going on about. White’s pared-down comic just doesn’t need me telling you how good it is. It just does that by making you have all those weird feelings when you read it.
So, instead of a few more hundred words, I’ll just leave you with a couple of Dan White’s Terminus pages and let that uncomfortable feeling of unease creep into your head as your brain starts creating it’s own strange narrative about the world he makes on a single page…
Oh, and there’s also this – the very first Cindy and Biscuit. It was this one-page, of a feisty girl with that baseball bat on her shoulder smiling just that little bit as she stands over the ruins of a Martian fleet that grew to become the series I love so much.
Dan White’s Terminus: Rabbit Season, Duck Season – The Collected Strip as well as his excellent horror comics, Sticky Ribs, and the glorious Cindy & Biscuit are available in various digital/print formats at his shop – and be sure to stop by his website, Twitter, and subscribe to the Silence! Podcast.