Riding The Stars With The Little White Mouse
Little White Mouse is the best comic book you're not reading. It's your fault Paul Sizer has to sling hash at the local McPerkins, (the midnight shift t... for shame you people.) And it's your fault I can't find this book on the rack at my local comic shop. Every month I have to pour over every page of until my eyes bleed, in the futile hope that I'll catch this little mag before it disappears into the miasma of reorder hell. It sucks trying to track this comic down on a monthly basis. It seems nobody but me (and possibly the gals over at Sequential Tart) reads the damned thing, and worse, it has a microscopic publisher better suited to churning out Bristol board pages and sketchpads than putting out a regular comic book.
Fortunately for all of us, somebody at thought it might be a good idea to let Paul Sizer work his magic on two of the best graphic collections to grace the comics reading public since Bendis' last spined edition of Powers. Not only that, but (gasp) they're keeping it in print. Now you have no excuse. Go out and buy this comic! Buy two and give one to your indigent friend who always borrows your mags, but never seems to have enough money to get his own. Read this comic. It will clear up your acne, babes will suddenly find you interesting, and people will start taking you seriously. Well, probably not, but you'll get a damned fine read out of the deal. And your indigent friend will definitely be interested enough to pick up the next collection for himself. Though he probably won't get one for you.
I discovered Paul Sizer and his creation Loo (the title character) at the 2001 Wizard Convention in Chicago. He was crammed into the artists' ghetto at the back of the Con with the other forgotten creators. You've seen them, the artists and writers published by small independent companies (and the even lower creatures who eke out their meager existence self publishing.) They're the ones who stare at you with haunted eyes as you breeze by them in your blissful shopping frenzy. If you look at them you'll see faces painted with equal parts quiet desperation and hope (It helps if you wear sunglasses and look down as you pass their tables.) Blue Line Pro had just collected his first Little White Mouse mini series into their inaugural Perfect Collection, and they'd obviously spent enough money on the man to set him up with a giant velveteen display screen. Nobody else had a divider that big, so it was enough to draw me in.
On approach, I was met by an oversized poster of a little Japanese girl. I could tell she was Japanese by her huge wide eyes and her spiky black hair haphazardly tucked through a backwards baseball cap. (Ah, the benefits of a classic Manga education.) Standing there, looking up at her, three things struck me about this girl. First, she was irreverently chewing bubble gum, (cheeky, but not necessarily off-putting) second, she had a prominent band-aid on her right forearm, and finally, she was cocked, locked, and loaded with a classic science fiction BFG. (That's Big Fucking Gun for those of you who still retain luddite tendencies.) Even though we hadn't yet been properly introduced, I just knew this girl was going to be trouble.
I talked to Mr. Sizer for a bit, asking him the usual ignorant fanboy convention questions; "Who are you?", "What is this Mouse thing?", "What's so special about you that you rate this massive display screen when Carla Speed McNeil is over there making due with a lousy cork board?" He answered me politely, with an air of humility that I'd rarely seen in an artist who was obviously so talented. He gave me a brief outline of Little White Mouse and when I asked to see a copy, he wearily explained that his publisher had dropped the ball and hadn't yet brought the books in from the vans, so he really didn't have anything other than the promo art to show me. I was just about to move on when he did the weirdest thing. He stood up, shook my hand, and thanked me for stopping by his booth.
When I snapped out of the shock trauma of receiving genuine human contact within a feeding frenzy of corporate shilling and pushy consumers, it was the next day, and I was once again standing in front of the Blue Line Pro booth. I shelled out my fifteen bucks for the graphic novel to one of the BLP guys, and was about to grab one off the table, when Mr. Sizer twisted himself free from a group of chatty fans and personally delivered my book. I thanked him and moved on, not wanting to suck up any more of his time than I already had. The day after the con, I opened up Little White Mouse for the first time. Not only had Paul Sizer handed me a head sketch of Loo with the words "thanks Dan" scrawled under his signature, but he'd also given me one of the best graphic stories I'd ever read.
Sizer works magic with his prodigious array of penciling and inking skills, taking full advantage of the book's black and white format. From cover to closing, Little White Mouse looks like something laid out by a graphic design major with a penchant for breaking the bell curve. He uses broken panel borders to convey heightened emotion, smaller panels to speed up action, larger panels and splashes to slow down and freeze time. The Fever Dream section of the second collection particularly stands out as he uses a comical Manga format (a la Ben Dunn) cut with his own drawing style to highlight the difference between dream and reality. He takes a minimalist approach to backgrounds which serves to focus your attention on the characters and the story they are telling. Sizer's art style is unique, blending Geof Darrow's exacting line work with Masamune Shirow's sense of layout and design. The result is a melding of Japanese and American graphic sensibilities that is a delight to the eyes
The artwork is amazing, but what makes Little White Mouse great is its narrative. Like the first line of any good story, the art is the "hook" that draws you in, but it's the story's job to keep you there, and this tale will keep you turning pages well past your bedtime. Sizer takes one of the most overused tropes in science fiction, Robinson Crusoe in space", filters it through the eyes of an impossibly brilliant teenage girl, and succeeds in telling a tale that is unique in its vision and well stocked with vibrant, interesting characters.
The primary narrative is told by Loo Th'eng, affectionately nicknamed Little White Mouse by her grandfather (hence the title.) She and her sister escape from a transport ship shortly before it explodes, only to crash land on a mysteriously deserted mining asteroid. The station is still operating under the control of the central computer system which doesn't seem to realize that its human crew is dead. Loo's sister is killed on impact, leaving her stranded and alone. Her basic needs of food and shelter are provided, and Loo soon realizes that there may be hope of resurrecting her sister into a robot body from scraps of her personality that were imprinted onto the main hard drive of her shuttle's wrecked computer. It's a Herculean task that becomes an obsession for Loo that often overrides her driving need to escape her situation.
Loo's already been aboard the asteroid for a month as we pick up the story. Her only companions are two robots programmed to serve the station's long dead human crew, the ghost of one of the station's engineers, and her ever present journal. The journal serves as a convenient flashback device wherein we are introduced to Loo's family, and the circumstances which led up to her current situation. It quickly becomes apparent that the journal is Loo's main touchstone to sanity in the face of her overwhelming isolation. The story continues as Loo fills up her days by matching wits with the station's main computer which sees her as a disruptive threat as she goes about scrounging desperately needed parts from the station to rebuild her sister.
Sizer does a masterful job of thrusting us into the role of voyeur as he makes us privy to all the inner workings of his characters. At its core, Little White Mouse is a story about desperation and loneliness, and how we as human beings deal with those two personal demons. It is a tale filled with ingenuity, personal courage, and most of all hope. It's pretty much the entire human equation wrapped up in just over 200 pages of science fiction trappings. It's pure magic. Just read it, you'll love it.
The Little White Mouse Perfect Collections 1 and 2 are both currently available directly from Blue Line Pro Press, and every three months or so Previews solicits them again, so your local comic shop should be able to get them for you. It's well worth the hunt. The story is the showpiece, but these two books are also packed full of extra goodies. They have production sketches, fan art by other pros savvy enough to follow Sizer's work (including Geof Darrow), and promo artwork, all in glorious black and white.
Find these graphic gems and buy them. Paul Sizer is a genius and his work is criminally overlooked. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.