Sin Titulo – A Study In Paranoid Noir

Cameron Stewart is an artist who has become well known due to his collaborations with Grant Morrison on Seaguy and Batman & Robin as well as working with Jason Aaron on the Eisner winning Vertigo mini, The Other Side. He’s got a very clean style and he’s also a bit of a writer, but you’d have to follow his Eisner winning webcomic, Sin Titulo, to know that. Why should you follow this webcomic? Well, it might just be the best thing going for free out there.

Sin Titulo

Sin Titulo is pegged as being a semi-autobiographical mystery. What, exactly, that means is left pretty open for interpretation. I doubt all of this happened to Cameron Stewart, and he’s not really claiming it’s all real, but I’m sure there’s some spark from his real life that influenced the creation of this comic. It’s about a young man investigating the death of his grandfather and the very weird circumstances and slices of evidence around this event.

The comic updates weekly, when Stewart isn’t busy traveling to Russia for research purposes on his new assignment Assassin’s Creed or turning down Grant Morrison for pencils on a Cowboy Batman on the massive selling Return of Bruce Wayne. Sometimes the new page is there, sometimes it isn’t. Usually, though, Stewart is pretty good with it all, and to be honest, when the quality is this good I’ll wait however long it takes. It started in June of 2007 and I’m still digging it to this say, though you need to remember a lot.

The pages are usually set out in a rectangular slab of two by four panels. This can vary but this was how Stewart kicked it all off. In the first installment, we meet out lead as he is on a beach, his feet dangling in sandy, warm water. He is telling us about a dream and instantly we are drawn in. The prose is fluid, the panels simple, the colours like a hot holiday breeze but with all the sound taken out. Then the dream ends. This is our beginning, or is it our end. Perhaps the middle?

We then meet the dreamer, a Mr Alex Mackay, as he collects his dead grandfather’s personal items from the nursing home he died in a month prior. Amongst the usual books and frame is a picture of his dead old grandfather with a young blonde thing nestling up next to him. Alex doesn’t know who this lady is, and he can’t imagine a connection either. The ages are far too disparate, the simple smile and eyes hidden behind sunglasses intrigue Alex.

While trying to ask a simple question of a nurse about the photograph, Alex starts to get the run around. The lady takes the photo, asks him to wait, and then disappears. Not the most professional thing to do. He then hears one of the orderlies, Wesley, doing some very unprofessional things behind closed door to one of the patients. Stewart creates each page almost like its own little vignette. It all ties together, and the gaps in storytelling aren’t massive, but he designs each page to have its own start and end. It’s by standing back that you see everything he is trying to convey. This requires the reader to truly invest and remember things but it also provides so many greater rewards. This is a comic that does not pander, at all, it’s completely a literate chunk of narrative.

With only a few pages, we can see that Alex’s world and the mystery in it is strange. The goings on in the nursing home are creepy enough but then when he goes to his grandfather’s grave he sees the girl from the photo. He’s somewhere on the right track but manages to lose the girl, and possibly see her leave with Wesley. The connections come thick and fast which make this comic very quickly feel like an old school pulp. No one seems to be on the level and you get the feeling that with some mild scratching our hero is going to uncover some seriously disturbing transgressions, and maybe even reveal more of himself. We don’t exactly know Alex, not at this stage anyway, but you get the feeling there will be plenty to sink our teeth into as the story progresses, and there certainly is.

What follows is Alex going on a stake out that leads him further down the rabbit hole in a chase mystery that’s equal part Chandleresque circular staircase narrative and Kubrickian descent into the madness of the world we so freely ignore. Alex unravels further layers of this mystery and while he still doesn’t know the exact cause of his grandfather’s death he has bigger problems to deal with. He might just be losing his mind, or losing his life, and perhaps his free will is being compromised. It’s hard to tell exactly because as the viewer we often don’t have any more information than Alex does. It’s a great study of shadows full of teeming life like the insects living below an ancient furry log.

Half the time, we are merely delving deeper into the life of Alex. He’s your average sort of hero, complex and yet he thinks he’s perfectly plain. Stewart offers us miniscule memories and uses economy of words to elicit a complicity of understanding from the reader. It’s been a 3 year struggle over only 102 pages and yet we know Alex, and what we don’t know we can fill in, or at least speculate. And that’s one of the joys of Sin Titulo, the ability to speculate and wonder. You know Stewart has a master plan but having to wait so long for it is either going to burn you out or it’s going to make you want more. I like periodical entertainment because I appreciate the wait in between. I love the time to analyse and discuss and with this comic there is plenty on the table ready and willing for dissection.

Cameron Stewart shows here with every page that he knows how to structure a scene, he knows how to drop any superfluous words or images, and he certainly has mastered how to develop emotion on the page and make the mixture of the words and the art sing a song like lightning hitting the outside of a jail as ol’ lightning rides again. He’s synergistic in this comic and it’s because the tale is semi-personal that we feel like we’re seeing things only Alex has ever known before.

This comic looks like you want a pulp tale to look. People get hurt, wear bandages, react with their face with emotion and depth. Stewart creates a seedy world of dirty doors and walls and strange television/telephone contraptions that only made me think of Videodrome, and that’s an excellent thing to reference in this kind of tale. It’s a sci-fi noir but more likely a very low-fi tale. There’s no need to debate how things work, ultimately this is about the people. This is about Alex and the world around him. The connections he has with people, how he keeps them, and what he will do to figure all of this business out.

The fact that this comic is free, absolutely and no strings attached free is an astounding thing to think about. Stewart makes this labour of love in his spare time and he’s really giving it his all. I know I’ve donated some money to the cause, nothing he’ll retire on, but this is one comic I felt I needed to give something back. Even if just to let him know there’s good people out here appreciating his work.

You can access some video of Stewart drawing the comic on YouTube, check the screen below. The man is very good at what he does, and is also extremely nice if his internet profile is anything to judge a man.

Sin Titulo is a brilliant study of a man drawn deeper and deeper into a situation he can’t control and one he should never have discovered in the first place. He’s taken some beatings, watched a head explode, and now that he’s halfway through hell there’s certainly no point in turning back. And that’s the same for the reader, once you’re in, you’re in. And you might think you want to get out, you may even look away, but like Alex, you’ll have to stick it out. Because not knowing is ultimately so much worse.

Hit the link to start at the start and let Mr. Stewart take it away.

Ryan K Lindsay is an Australian writer who finds time in nearly every day to get words of some description down. He was published by Marvel once, in a back matter essay in Criminal, but he can more regularly be found penning reviews and op/ed pieces on comic news website The Weekly Crisis. His favourites are; character, Matt Murdock; story, Y: The Last Man; novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay; movie, Chasing Amy; and woman, his wife.