.....234 pages, perfect bound.
.....5 1/2" x 8" x 1/2" .............
Within the Rat
A Surreal Graphic Memoir of My Shadow Side
Written & Illustrated by Stefan Salinas
Camelopardalis Books

A Xeric Grant Recipient.

"As a debut work of art comics, Within the Rat proves poetic and refreshingly open-faced." ..........- Bill Sherman, Blogcritics.org
"...well worth reading because the 'scrapbook' method of creating an autobiography is a fascinating one, and far more engaging and intimate than any other type I've ever read. It's visceral and effective in its own outlandish, unexpected way."
- Colin David, GraphicNovelReporter.org
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....Within the Rat/// begins with three kids in a tent in a backyard at night. One of them suggests they venture out into the “dark forest” to find and kill the fabled Mud-crud, a ferocious, man-eating beast. They step into the darkness; into an imaginary world. The reader may assume that these kids will carry us through this journey and then return to the “real” world, transformed, as in many coming-of-age stories. But the kids quickly fade into the background, and a rat informs us that we are within the first chapter of a book he’s writing. The anchor of reason is pulled up...

This is a journey within - within the subconscious; within memories, family histories, dreams and mental landscapes. We encounter a maiden who turns into a mermaid, a mother who becomes a horse, a mourner who collects tears, and other manifestations of alcoholism, codependency, anxiety and depression.

.R A T .... R E V I E W S

By Bill Sherman ..............................................................................................................................Blogcritics.org.......May 16, 2010

Subtitled “A Surreal Graphic Memoir of My Shadow Side,” Stefan Salinas’ Within the Rat (Camelopardalis) is a slippery, black-and-white picture book of odd and symbol-laden character studies. The winner of a Xeric Grant which allowed San Francisco-based Salinas to self-publish his 236-page alt graphic novel, Rat opens on a trio of kids who are telling scary stories as they camp out in the backyard. After one of the threesome tells of the “mud-crud” — a “horrible man-eating best with long, sharp claws, ferocious teeth, a spiky tail and beady eyes” — the crew lights out in search of the creature, unknowingly passing a rat carrying a sack. The rat looks out at the reader and invites us into his lair, where he tells us he’s been working on “a collection of stories; of scenes ... I dunno.”

In one of these stories/scenes, a horse/mother flees her burdensome children, only to return after contemplating suicide; in another, the rat recounts a failed relationship with a lover who is “so full of compassion” that he can’t connect with him. The rat's collection of tales circles around several motifs — the death of the author’s mother, his pattern of failed relationships, urban anxiety — before returning to a slam-bang confrontation with the mud-crud. Perhaps the center figure in the midst of this mélange (she’s given the cover spot) is Mildred, the professional mourner, who takes us through her dour weekly routine and rages against what she sees as an indifferent God. In the midst of her rant, the mourner morphs into one more manifestation of the artist, retreating into a prenatal state and re-emerging as the rat narrator.

This might all be overly self-absorbed if Salinas wasn’t honest enough to acknowledge that his characters’ frequently bleak view of the world comes from within. At one point in the book, a former lover tells the author, “Y’know, some of us men in this book of yours are more comfortable with ourselves than you may realize,” though it's clear the author doesn't believe this assertion. When Mildred the mourner actually hears from her Father/God over the phone and is given some simple sensible advice on how to make a small change in the world, she refuses to listen, instead retreating into a round of self-pitying rationalization. The world may have its monsters, Rat tells us, but nobody can make us as miserable as ourselves. “So many of you are disconnected from each other,” a tearful Mother Nature says late in the book, her tears ironically adding to a flood that threatens our rat hero.

Salinas’s gray-washed illustrations look like something you might find in a precocious child’s notebook: which is apt, considering the blend of naive fantasy and adult angst that he’s working to evoke here. I’m less enamored by his decision to use type font both for the book’s narration and his characters’ speeches, but, then, I’m old-fashioned in this regard. (But if we’re reading from a rat’s journal, wouldn’t it be claw-written?) Still as a debut work of art comics, Within the Rat proves poetic and refreshingly open-faced. Would like to see what Salinas can do with characters who aren’t manifestations of his shadow self.

By Colin David .............................................................................................................GraphicNovelReporter.com... Summer 2010

If there’s one thing that can be said about Within the Rat, it’s that it presents a very interesting take on the traditional autobiographical graphic novel format, but whether or not Stefan Salinas’s approach is completely successful seems to rely entirely upon how deeply the reader chooses to delve beneath its turbulent surface. Salinas is telling a story to himself, about himself, and if you happen to overhear it, he doesn’t seem to mind. If you miss the inside jokes, it’s your own fault.

For all of its flaws (typographical ones included), Salinas’s method of throwing in countless loose, scrawled sketches from throughout his own sketchbooks seems to give off the impression of a hazy memory, or a confused series of emotions, or an inability to perceive things properly—a sentiment that is matched by the text. Sequential comic panels jump from one visual style to another without warning, and there’s an exceptionally childlike reluctance to drawing proportionate bodies. It’s a very disconcerting collage, and it communicates Salinas’s emotional state more than it displays any artistic skill.

Between the gray tangle of illustrations, icons, and scribbles, there are a handful of words that focus on describing heavy-handed metaphors—some in narrative style, some like e. e. cummings poems. The entire set of vignettes is bookended by a few segments of a story about three children hunting a monster in the woods. Of course, it’s made excruciatingly clear that this is a metaphor for innocence and defeating doubt. The book references its own existence, breaks the fourth wall, and is thick with parable. If there’s a literary device, you’ll find it wedged in between these pages.

Salinas paints himself as a victim throughout the entire book—a victim of others, of his own promiscuity with older men, of the world. He inhabits multiple selfless, altruistic forms : a rat (who is a spitting image of Dr. DeSoto), an old woman in perpetual mourning, and a lion cub among his incarnations. He seems to express an unwillingness to take responsibility for any of these things, but by the end of the tale, Salinas finds enough peace to accept (and literally consume) everything that he is and grow from it, wearing his scars with pride.

If the work seems incoherent, it’s because it is. It’s jarring, twitchy, and filled with a confusing amalgamation of finished artwork and barely distinguishable sketches, related through an amorphous stream of consciousness. The best autobiographies will help the reader understand themselves better, but this serves more as a vehicle for Salinas to explore, very publicly, what he calls his Shadow Side.

Teachers and librarians may wish to note that Within the Rat includes themes of homosexuality (depending on how conservative your particular demographic is), and that there is a single, understated depiction of genitalia. Aside from that, the childish metaphors for alcoholism and sex are made so innocently that they’re almost nonexistent.

While not a work of genius, it’s well worth reading because the “scrapbook” method of creating an autobiography is a fascinating one, and far more engaging and intimate than any other type I’ve ever read. It’s visceral and effective in its own outlandish, unexpected way. Rat provides a kind of informal education in thinking outside of graphic novel traditions, and this technique possesses an immense amount of potential if harnessed intelligently.


Stefan Salinas All rights reserved.
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