For a book that resides entirely underground, swallowed by water and dank caverns, CAVE-IN makes claustrophobia a pretty, pretty thing. Trading linear aim for wandering lyricism, Brian Ralph straddles the line between fairy tales and existential angst.
CAVE-IN has no sound, but it doesn't lack language. Every page is penned in a single, rich tone that shifts with each new environment, from monkeyshit brown to forest green and all the way back. The colors shadow the tiny epic wanderings, most of which involve the cipher of the story - a big-eared, squint-eyed homunculus in a loincloth - as he lazily strolls from one misadventure to the next.
At turns cute and dark, satisfying as both bedtime story and fuzzy allegory, CAVE-IN lets kids giggle over cartoonish characters crawling out of the belly of a giant dead worm and slips adults a wizened smile as the main character apes Gulliver-as-jerk.
Small and squat, on thick textured paper and filled with big, thick panels, CAVE-IN defies its simple surface with detail that borders on ornate. None of which would work if Ralph couldn't make it all dance, which he does with seemingly no effort at all. CAVE-IN is storybook simple, but can be pored over for hours and gives off the heady rush of Russian nesting dolls; something simple that surely contains multitudes if only you thought with the right kind of brain.
Christopher Sebela lives, works and sleeps in Kansas City, MO. When not laying out newspaper pages or writing quasi-subversive headlines for a tiny upstart company within a huge publishing syndicate, he pimps his muse as a freelance writer or labors in vain crudely editing reams of footage. He has no idea why he has a website, but he does: thoughtpeach.com.