Al White, aka DJ Crud, is part of Glasgow record label 12th Isle, renowned for the visionary aesthetic of White’s cover and flyer art as well as for the exploratory and diverse musical output of their roster, and the creative decor and staging of their club nights. I think it’s fair to say that White’s work as a designer has had a big impact, with his imaginative art and layouts clearly an influence on a lot of others in recent years, so when I heard that he’d self-published a book, I had to have a look!
As a label, 12th Isle fit neatly with the current renewal of interest in ’90s “home-listening” techno and ambient music (with an added Fourth World twist). In a way, White’s artwork can also be seen as a descendant of post-rave aesthetics, a next generation biomutation of ’90s dance music design. His organic, sigil-like forms and ambiguous structures, part-way between object and ornament, have distant ancestors in some of the work of The Designer’s Republic and Prototype 21, or Me Company, whose cryptic 3D glyphs bled through to sleeve designs from their birthplace in the sterile, enclosed ecosystem of rave video art.
White now brings us this immaculately-drawn 40-page comic, 18 months in the making, and titled simply CRUD 1. This is described as a narrative work, but you may find it easier to simply enjoy the ride rather than to try to follow any thread; in that respect, it does read a little like a ’90s rave video, but with far more sophisticated imagery (and, er, minus the dolphins). Just as White’s sleeve art helps create an imaginative head space to accompany 12th Isle’s releases, maps for subjective (dis)orientation in speculative worlds of instrumental music, so this book also uses abstraction as a strength, with the reader an active participant, obliged to fill in the gaps and come to their own conclusions.
We follow a propeller-like piece of biomachinery, sometimes mechanical, sometimes plant-like, flying through heavily-encoded landscapes, like the seed-pod of a maple tree on the wind. A lot of extra data is provided, but we’ve lost the manual, like trying to follow IKEA assembly instructions whilst hallucinating wildly. Further cryptic transformations are explored, forms stretch and become more explicitly symbolic, texts flirting with legibility, meaning always just out of reach. Objects shift and reach the complexity of alien graffiti, wildstyle military hardware from another world.
Layouts exist in a space somewhere between traditional comics and scientific tables. Contiguous with this experimental narrative is the author’s own artistic exploration of the potential and growth of abstracted form, with White including photos of what look like maquettes of some of these transitional objects, presented embedded alongside his drawings, further muddying the boundaries between forms, and between story and research. As a comic, it reminds me obtusely of Decadence Comics’ Tsemberledis (whose Prismatik Man touches on similar ideas), though here abstraction is heavily foregrounded, rather than more obviously representative drawing (which does occasionally appear).
Part high-end sci-fi zine, part art monograph, CRUD 1 can be enjoyed at face-value as a sumptuous, eye-popping trip through alien vistas of intriguing wonder, or as a discursive exploration of visual symbolic language as a living, growing force. Beautifully, vividly riso-printed in three colours by Glasgow’s Sunday’s Print Service, it’s a confusing but alluring world you’ll want to dip into and revisit, to perhaps try to begin to learn the language. Or perhaps it’s best not to overthink it. Just let it sink slowly through your irises, give it half an hour and then see what happens. Maybe you’ll even start to see dolphins.