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Under Earth Review

Under Earth is Australian Comic Author Chris Gooch’s latest offering, a 160 page introduction to a larger work in the making. Gooch’s last book, Bottled was published by Top Shelf 2017. Bottled showed off a cinematic flair of visual storytelling, a knack for authentic dialogue, and control of pacing and story structure beyond his years. In the words of Mark Twain and oft expounded by Robert McKee; it is “a good story, well told”.

Bottled focuses on a tale of friendship gone sour. It is woven into a story of blackmail, envy, and infidelity, through the perspective of Milennials in contemporary inner city Melbourne. Under Earth transports the reader to a Dystopian, broken future version of what is most certainly Australia. Under Earth is mix of labour camp and tent city, a penal colony set within the prominent architecture of Melbourne, laying in ruins and surrounded by a toxic swamp composed of acrid liquid and rubbish. The rubbish, including CRT monitors, iPods, and car parts, gives us a glimpse to the world beyond, or above, that of Under Earth.

Brave New World

Gooch appears to enjoy his role as keeper of secrets. The narrative opens up, unfolds, piece by piece. There is no use of omniscient narration throughout. Narration that is used sparingly throughout, and only then as quiet contemplation. Through the perspective of a new convict we witness the brutality of darkly masked prison guards, casting allusions to a dark future well within the realm of possibility. Hard labour and guile are the only means of survival in this world, where the disposed waste of civilization is collected from the toxic swamp and exchanged in return for a sub-human existence.

Under Earth is well structured with minimalistic dialogue, clear cinematography, and a rhythmic tempo of page layout. The result is a narrative that flows through page after page of balanced action and exposition. The story feels like it’s unfolding, as opposed to being dictated. As with Bottled, its an experience rather akin to watching a movie. The role of active participation is quickly forgotten. It’s really well put together.

The narrative is built with layers of subtext. Explicit commentary is mixed with subtle implication. The environment, the status of convicts, Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers. Gooch to avoid saying these things out loud, he tells an entertaining story that gracefully skirts overt political activism. Much like Pat Grant and Fionn McCabe’s The Grot, there is a depth of world building that is only shown, not told. Buy a copy and make up your own mind.

Under Earth is supported by Creative Victoria and published by Tree Paper Comics. It is currently available for sale at Squishface Studio, through Readings, or by contacting Chris Gooch.