As an older successful indy title, Demo has been consistently present in my
periphery for about as long as I’ve been browsing comics on my own. That made
finally sitting down to read it a little like listening to Rain Dogs for the
first time. As with Tom Waits’ 1985 album, I was not disappointed.
Maybe because I’m neither a writer nor an artist, I’m always drawn in by the
stories in comic books (rather than by the words or the pictures themselves).
In that sense, I got more than I bargained for: the complete run of Demo
collects eighteen shorts. Still, I was initially disappointed to discover that
there is no overarching narrative. Although many issues involve some
supernatural ability, there’s not all that much holding them together. The most
you can say for them all is that they focus on changing relationships–a
commonality too conventional to warrant the word “theme.” There’s not a dull
story among them, though, so I had no trouble letting go of my desire for grand
narrative. They include some ambiguous or unresolved endings and definitely
tend toward the tragic, but that’s life. A few have a fairly typical “breakup”
premise while others explore surprisingly specific topics. I wasn’t prepared
for how close-to-home a couple struck me.
That was the most obvious indication for the strength of Wood’s writing. It can
border on melodramatic, but that seems only fitting for the younger people to
whom he’s giving voice. I don’t mean to condescend; given what they’re going
through, I think adolescents deserve some theatricality in their expression.
Wood seems to agree, presenting their angst as not just legitimate but
Cloonan matches the range of the stories with an amazingly versatile
performance. Through the first 12 issues in particular, it’s hard to believe
that the same person drew every page. She creates a distinctive visual style
for each issue which, performed by less skilled hands, would have easily felt
incoherent. About the second volume, Cloonan wrote,
My art has become a lot more consistent so I didn’t feel comfortable
experimenting as much as I did in the first twelve, but I’m still so pleased
And rightly so: what those final six issues lack in visual range, they make up
for in emotional precision.
Demo is an ambitious collection of short stories. The imagination and heart
of the creative team makes it work as an accessible and compelling whole.