Fracture of the Universal Boy

By Michael Zulli
208 pages, black and white
Published by Eidolon Fine Arts

I’ve loved Michael Zulli’s art ever since I first saw it, and over the years he’s just gotten stronger and stronger as a creator. When Zulli turned to Kickstarter last year to fund the printing of a 208-page hardcover graphic novel that he’d written and drawn titled The Fracture of the Universal Boy, I jumped at the chance to get a copy for myself. At the same time, though, I’ll admit that a voice in the back of my head warned me not to get too excited. Zulli wrote two of the three chapters of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Soul’s Winter back in the day (Stephen Murphy is credited as providing the script over Zulli’s story for the first third) and while the art was amazing, the story never quite came together. So it was with that slight hesitation that I finally sat down to read The Fracture of the Universal Boy to see just what I’d helped pay for.

First, there’s no doubting that The Fracture of the Universal Boy is a deeply personal work for Zulli. Billed as semi-autobiographical, the book follows its main character going through a great deal of grief as he questions the universe around him. That in and of itself isn’t a problem. The main sticking point with The Fracture of the Universal Boy is that I feel that because Zulli was so close to the subject matter, he was unable to be objective about if it worked as a narrative. Unfortunately, I don’t think it does. It’s a disjointed series of pages with the protagonist regularly yelling or thinking angry thoughts about different symbols and concepts. If that doesn’t sound riveting, your inner hunch is quite correct. The writing portion of The Fracture of the Universal Boy feels less like an actual story or book, and more like a therapeutic exercise that someone went through to purge themselves of dark emotions, but failed to then dispose of properly. By the end of The Fracture of the Universal Boy, the urge to skip the narration boxes entirely was quite strong; while there’s no doubt in my mind that The Fracture of the Universal Boy fulfilled its purpose for Zulli and also makes perfect sense to him (since his own mind can fill in any narrative gaps), it’s a book that I don’t think will work for most potential readers.

With that portion of the finished book out of the way, though, there is no doubt in my mind that this is some of Zulli’s best artwork of his career. The amount of detail that Zulli has poured into each page is astounding; hundreds of little pebbles and blades of grass on every panel set outdoors, careful trickles of blood mapped out just right across a face, the shading and texture of tree bark in a swamp. I actually found myself relieved that Zulli chose to create The Fracture of the Universal Boy in black and white instead of color; while his color comics (usually applied directly to shaded pencils) is attractive, there’s a crisp nature to the finished pages here that lets you get a much better look at every last pen stroke. I could look at his black and white drawings of roses for hours, easily.

Zulli handles the stranger aspects of The Fracture of the Universal Boy well here. This is a book with harpies, leopards with human heads, even strange bipedal lizards with crowns. In each instance, they’re perfectly integrated into the story along with the more mundane portions of the book. They’re just as recognizable as an ever-filling ash tray, or a falcon soaring overhead. The book’s oversized dimensions are also a big plus here; it lets you get up close and person with the art and get a strong feel for what’s going on. While the story itself never quite works, strictly as an art book The Fracture of the Universal Boy is a gorgeous purchase, one that you can just study for hours.

I wish that I could wholeheartedly recommend The Fracture of the Universal Boy, but I feel like this is a book that could have benefited immensely with the help of an editor or co-author. I understand that this is, as I said before, a deeply personal book for Zulli, and as such I get why he wouldn’t have gone that route. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s ultimately a frustrating book. As a narrative story, The Fracture of the Universal Boy doesn’t work. As a series of amazing drawings from Zulli? If that appeals to you, then whenever The Fracture of the Universal Boy becomes available to a larger audience, I’d recommend it. Those who adore Zulli’s art will definitely find enjoyment out of the book.

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