Review of Michael Easton’s graphic novel, Credence
Credence Review by Alison Armstrong
Where tawdry, contrived “reality” shows featuring floozy debutantes and wannabe poseurs have replaced creatively expressive forms of media, authenticity, integrity, courage, as well as the most profound depths of horror, are obscured beneath a fluorescent sheen of mindless, sensationalistic entertainment. Michael Easton’s graphic novel Credence, illustrated by Steven Perkins, vividly depicts this bleak yet all-too-familiar contemporary milieu, highlighting its depressing banality while exploring the capacity for heroism in the midst of the most gruesome depravity.
Danny Credence, the main character of the novel, is a deeply flawed detective at home in the cesspool landscape of filth, crime, drugs, and celebrity worship. He is a rebel, a transgressor of some of the very laws he as a police officer is supposed to enforce, yet he is also a man struggling to retain his battered ideals. Subjected to abuse by his hateful, tyrannical father, Credence learns that violence is a means of survival and that the boundaries between conventional morality and immorality are often hazy. Despite his shortcomings as a policeman, husband, and person, however, he is driven by a sense of honor, a need to protect the innocent and vulnerable while destroying the malevolent forces that threaten everything good within humanity. Credence has the opportunity to redeem himself when he encounters a murderer who delights in dismembering his young victims. This diabolical nemesis, Andras, like Jung’s concept of the Shadow, represents the darkest aspects of the psyche, the twisted, unappeasable demons haunting, tormenting, and tempting mankind in many different guises and masks throughout history. Bolstered by his proud, pugnacious Celtic heritage, the “Belfast blood—a snake pit of Irish American rogues out there just waiting to be summoned,” Credence prepares to battle Andras to the death.
Easton’s prose—raw, at times profane, yet balanced by passages of poignant beauty, such as his description of the 9/11 rescue dogs searching for signs of life buried beneath the crushing, indifferent rubble of mass-scale death—lays bare the bones, skin, guts, and blood of our worst nightmares and traces with shadowy, evasive tenderness the resilient, revivifying whispers of hope. Giving cinematic vividness to Easton’s words, illustrator Steven Perkins presents in lushly shadowed gradations of black, white, and grey dizzying perspectives—towering skyscrapers and plunging descents. Alleys, basements, and subways lurk with chiaroscuro menace. Faces snarl, scream, and contort with hellish intensity. Like a film noir movie in print form, Perkins conveys an everpresent mood of mystery and unease in a landscape where the worst things are always waiting to happen.
Although the book’s subject matter is dark and disturbing, Easton’s sly, sarcastic wit, his scathingly perceptive observations of our society’s obsession with shallow, insipid, ignoble idols provide invigorating doses of comic relief. In opposition to these crass, disreputable icons, Easton pays homage to heroes who embolden and inspire–the dedicated police officers and servicemen who risk their lives to save others, as well as the artists and musicians (such as Lou Reed, Patti Smith, and Shane MacGowan depicted towards the close of the book) who challenge us to create a new, much more vital and satisfying, reality. As in his Soul Stealer graphic novel series, Easton’s new book is a riveting exploration of sin, valor, love, brutality, and sacrifice. This time the mythic elements are concealed within the gritty, contemporary urban setting. Celebrity flunkies have presumptuously tried to take the place of the ancient gods, but, as Credence shows, the battle between good and evil is as fierce as ever, and heroes, despite their flaws, are just as crucial.
Thomasina: A Personal Reflection and Review by Alison Armstrong
Of all the books that have sparked my imagination and helped to shape my beliefs when I was growing up, Paul Gallico’s Thomasina: The Cat Who Thought She Was God had the most impact. This novel, interspersing first-person accounts from a cat’s perspective with a third-person narrative set in 1950s Scotland, enticed me with its blend of myth, fantasy, humor, sorrow, and its inspiring, Nature-revering spirituality.
Thomasina weaves together the fates of five main characters– Thomasina, a witty, perceptive, self-absorbed cat; her owner, Mary Ruadh MacDhui, a lonely little girl; Dr. Andrew MacDhui, her father, an embittered, arrogant, atheistic veterinarian; Andrew’s friend, Mr. Peddie, a gentle, loving clergyman who believes all living beings are sacred, and “mad” Lori, a reclusive young woman who lives alone in the wilderness and heals wounded animals. As in a Greek tragedy, MacDhui’s obstinate pride, combined with his lack of faith and lack of compassion, sets in motion a chain of events that can either lead to ruin or spiritual transformation. Although devoted to his young daughter, the widower MacDhui does not understand the intense loneliness Mary experiences as a result of her mother’s death. Left alone with a housekeeper while her father is at work, Mary turns to her cat, Thomasina, for comfort. When Thomasina suddenly falls gravely ill, MacDhui is too preoccupied trying to save a blind man’s guide dog and too convinced of Thomasina’s dire prognosis to try to save her. Ordering his assistant to put the cat to sleep, he disregards his daughter’s anguished pleas to spare her beloved pet. He does not realize that by his insensitive, uncaring actions he has inadvertently betrayed his daughter’s trust in him and caused her to fall into a deep, debilitating depression that will jeopardize her health. As Mary retreats further and further away from her father, her friends, and external reality, she loses her will to live. Thomasina, meanwhile, miraculously manages to survive her attempted murder, and, rescued by Lori, believes herself to be an incarnation of the ancient cat goddess Bast. Although no one else in the book shares her belief, Thomasina is not the only character whose faith in a divine power provides a revitalizing alternative to MacDhui’s bleak, cynical materialism. Peddie’s compassionate, all-embracing Christianity and Lori’s pantheistic spirituality offer the hope, purpose, and healing MacDhui and his severely depressed daughter so desperately need but do not know how to obtain on their own. Amdist the complex, interrelated threads of destiny ensnaring MacDhui, Peddie, Lori, Mary, and Thomasina, a path to redemption can be found, but first MacDhui must relinquish his imprisoning pride.
Gallico’s compelling exploration of Christian and pagan religious themes, animal consciousness, and childhood grief yields enthralling glimpses into a mystical, almost Edenic world where reverence for Nature, compassion and mysticism prevail against ruthless materialism. Revisiting Thomasina now as an adult, I find that the book has not lost any beauty, power or magic I remember from my first reading of it.
If anything, I value it even more because of the lasting influence it has had upon me. Through Thomasina I first became aware of non-Christian religions (ancient Egyptian and pagan Celtic), and in Lori, the gentle “witch” who healed the injured animals of the forest, I found my first heroine—a woman who existed apart from traditional society, independent, kind, wise, intuitive. Thomasina and Mary were equally memorable, symbolizing perhaps the animal I often wished I could transform myself into and the introspective, depressed child I actually was. The book started me on a journey which, like Thomasina’s revelatory adventures, led to self-discovery and a greater appreciation of life’s sacred mysteries.