Review by Ian Keogh
Fantagraphics has long encouraged what might otherwise be considered outsider art, creators disconnected from any form of mainstream, yet with a dedication and perseverance to produce dense, sprawling epics following their own muse. Twelve Gems hits those benchmarks, ostensibly a pulp science fiction story hung around a quest template, but with a lot of other stuff going on. The spacecraft used, for instance, is named the P-Quad, a nod to one of literature’s great obsessives in a story where no detail is considered too irrelevant for inclusion. Six immensely detailed panels over two pages to show the crew arriving at a space station? No problem. A rambling sequence that’s a bizarre reflection of the Star Wars cantina sequence? Of course.
Lane Milburn’s influences are broader, however, his art seemingly influenced by prolonged study of 1930s SF pulps and 1970s underground comics. Action sequences are like a nutty SF/Hong Kong action movie mash-up, with space sequences sometimes offering a little of Moebius’ serenity on the side. Millburn has an extraordinary visual imagination, and will labour lovingly over a spread featuring dozens of aliens that has little purpose of the scheme of things, yet ignore the bigger picture. Three mismatched primary characters are introduced and given a mission of collecting the legendary power gems, yet after seventy pages only two gems have been accumulated, one of which was handed to them at the start. Add to that, their sponsor Dr. Z, into whose nutty experiments we keep dropping back, may have ulterior motives. It’s a mistake, however, to become hung up on plot. Better to strap in and follow Milburn’s muse, as whenever you believe you have Twelve Gems pegged it’ll surprise. The suggestion of Dogstar, Furz and Venus being betrayed comes via the dog character’s dream of meeting his God. At other times Milburn will come up with a really nice turn of phrase, or a universal look at human nature. As a child Furz is rescued from his hellish home planet, bringing fame and fortune to his publicity hungry rescuer while he’s dumped in the Xenomorphanage, an environment not too far removed from his home.
Given what he’s shown us, the adventures lived and the civilisations enslaved, Millburn’s eventual revelation as to the purpose of the twelve gems is hilariously trivial, yet at the same time so aptly distilling his influences. It leads to a distorted Kirbyesque nightmare. Twelve Gems is a nutty headrush. At first you won’t believe it has charms, let alone that you could be seduced by them, yet the chances are high you will be.