Multi-talented illustrator Jonathan Kociuba is primarily known for his collaborations with the Urban Ninja Squadron of street artists, his “Space Pirate” character, and album cover and poster work. He’s also the lead singer for indie rock band Summer and Youth; and he’s recently released a new comic, Paperhead. I met Kociuba a few years ago while I was out reviewing Bug at Super Wonder Gallery (he designed their poster); and I saw him again this past Fall at a Killer B Cinema event at The Imperial Pub. He sent me a copy of Paperhead, along with the teaser book and as a copy of All of This (co-created with writer Suzanne Alyssa Andrew, released in May 2018) in an envelope he illustrated with a zombie.
In the surreal, meta Paperhead, artist Steve Barker works through his break-up demons as he creates a rom-comic that highlights the positive moments of his relationship with Lily—and inadvertently opens a portal between the real world and the world of his comic book creations in the process. The lines between his real life and the comics blur as the worlds collide and merge, forcing him to confront his characters, and face some brutally honest truths. Searching for answers and closure, and diving deep into the panels of his own work, will he ever resurface?
A dark, mind-bending existential trip—featuring sharply rendered illustrations, dark humour and introspection—Paperhead is an eerily dramatic and intense ride with a Twilight Zone edge.
Check out and purchase Kociuba’s comics and artwork, and connect with him via his website.
In Agnes’s shitty hotel room somewhere in Oklahoma, Agnes (Lynne Rafter) and her friend Ronnie (Jaclyn Nobrega) shoot the breeze and party with Ronnie’s friend Peter (Todd Preston). Agnes has been receiving multiple crank phone calls, with nothing but breathing on the other end, and suspects it’s her ex Jerry (Luke Gallo), who’s fresh out of two years in jail. Ronnie and her partner are trying to get custody of their kid, and when she leaves and Peter decides to stay, she vouches for him to Agnes. He’s a quiet one, that Peter. Quiet and nervous. But he and Agnes strike up a rapport and she offers him a place to stay, on the floor of her room. The relationship grows and they start to open up to each other, showing the other what’s deep inside. Only, for Peter, it’s not the usual life tribulations. An army soldier gone AWOL from a medical facility, he believes the government is experimenting on him. And his arrival has coincided with a bug infestation in Agnes’s room. Agnes, who is dealing with the heart-crushing loss of her young son who went missing 10 years ago, plus unwanted visits from the abusive Jerry, doesn’t know what to believe. When Dr. Sweet (Ian McGarrett) arrives, claiming he wants to take care of Peter and keep him safe, things start to make sense, but then – this being a Tracy Letts play – it all goes to hell pretty damn quick and hard.
Great work from the entire cast on this bizarre tale of conspiracy theory and paranoid delusion – and, like Agnes, the audience is constantly trying to sort out just what the hell is going on. Rafter gives a beautifully nuanced performance as the damaged Agnes; fragile and self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, she’s checked out of life and into this run-down hotel room, waiting tables to get by. Longing for connection and tenderness, she’s relieved yet terrified about her newfound relationship with Peter. This is Preston’s theatrical debut– and a damn good one at that – as he changes up from music performance (fronting Toronto indie band I Hate Todd) to acting. He turns up the heat on Peter nicely throughout; quiet and child-like at first, his anxiety presents as painful shyness, turning more hyperactive as he gets comfortable with Agnes in his new surroundings – and, like her, he’s longing for connection. Extremely intelligent, but obsessive and manic in his pursuit of the truth about the bugs, there’s a demented common sense to his theories. Really nice work from the supporting cast: Nobrega gives Ronnie a tough, but tender quality; loyal and extremely protective of Agnes, she’s a no-bullshit, direct gal who knows when she’s done all she can. Gallo brings a cagey, menacing edge to Jerry; an abusive brute with an overblown sense of ownership, he blames Agnes for the loss of their son Lloyd even as he uses her for money and as a punching bag. McGarrett is a somewhat spooky puzzle as Dr. Sweet; the doctor seems affable and harmless enough, even helpful – but there’s something off about him. He’s hiding something, but is it what Peter is accusing him of?
With shouts to the design team for creating the seedy, spooky ambiance: director Child (lighting), actor Preston (set design/construction), Michael Zahorak (music/sound) and Drac Child (makeup/costume coordinator).
Southern Gothic meets The X-Files (or does it?) in creepy, edgy thriller Bug.
Bug continues at the Super Wonder Theatre (aka Gallery) until May 27. Ticket info here; it’s an intimate space at the back of the gallery, so you might want to book ahead to avoid disappointment.