Sin Titulo by Cameron Stewart is a complex, cerebral, and imaginative graphic novel, and that is simply scratching the surface. The story and art are fluid, as in a waking dream where you think you know what is going on until you realize you don’t, you can’t see beyond the periphery no matter how hard you try, and though you remember aspects of it so intensely, it may all have just been a dream. That also describes what reading Sin Titulo is like, as Alex Mackay finds himself jumping, dragged, and stumbling into and through a journey of confusion, impossibility, and discovery. It all starts when Alex goes to visit his grandfather at his retirement home, only to find out he died a month ago. While rummaging through his grandfather’s belongings, he comes across a photo of his grandfather with a young woman, smiling and looking happier than he ever remembered him. Curious about the photo, Alex inquires about the woman, setting into motion a chain of events that will dig up his past, destroy his present, and forever change his future. This is a book you can’t put down until you’ve reached the end – I tried, and I couldn’t do it. The story and its immediacy compel you to keep reading, because, just like Alex, you have to know what it all means, you have to keep going until you can make sense of it all, until you find the truth.
Cameron Stewart, who is best known as an artist, his resume including such versatile work as the heady Jason Aaron-penned Vietnam tale The Other Side and Grant Morrison’s bizarre superhero Sea Guy, as well as more mainstream titles, works as both writer and artist on Sin Titulo, which was first published as an ongoing webcomic over numerous years, garnering multiple prestigious awards along the way. As fantastical and mind-alteringly surreal as Alex’s life gets, you still sense that the story is rooted in some deep autobiographical elements from Stewart’s own life, and that raw, personal feel is what truly drives the story. There are a plethora of emotions running through this book, some seething under the surface, some coming out in the art, and some crashing around you like a tidal wave. Each character is driven by their individual desires, needs, or beliefs, and the world of Sin Titulo is as mysterious and beautiful as it is dangerous.
The book, collected and published from the webcomic by Dark Horse, adds nothing to Stewart’s original vision except for pages and binding, and so maintains the art’s three-color format of black, white, and light brown. This color palette brings an eerie, almost unsettling look to much of the world, as if it represents a life only half-lived, only half-remembered. Stewart’s art is fantastic, nuanced at times and disturbingly visceral at others. His characters have a remarkable realism to them, which keeps the art grounded, even when the story is at its most mysterious or abstract. He knows this story and how to convey it, and the whole thing is expertly, and due to Alex’s circumstances often jarringly paced, and the tone ebbs and flows until it reaches a point of escalation from which there is no turning back.
Nearly every page is made up of eight panels, all equal in size and shape, and you can see the reasoning for this simplicity in that this was a one-man webcomic, but I believe the panel arrangement works on a deeper level, as well. Because all of the panels are the exact same size, no matter what we are seeing, we are only ever allowed to see so much of it, only so much can fit in each panel. Often, you feel as if there is something or someone you are supposed to see just right outside of the panel, or right at the edge of it, but you are unable to, and all you are left with is a nagging sense of the unknown. This perfectly captures Alex’s mind and journey, where mysterious figures and sought after answers seem to lie just beyond his reach, though he believes he can sense them, crouching in the shadows, watching him, but refusing to reveal themselves. Sin Titulo is an incredible book that makes you scratch your head, bite your nails, and leave all your preconceived notions and ideas about what this story is about on the very first page. Nothing can prepare you for the psychological, emotional, metaphysical, and visceral events that await you, and when you finish the last page, you will be in awe of Stewart’s abilities, and, just like Alex, you will be forever changed.