by Stephen Collins
This graphic novel starts off whimsical yet dark, in way that I found to be (in a good way) reminiscent of Dr Seuss:
Beneath the skin
is something nobody can know.
The job of the skin
is to keep it all in
and never let anything show.
Collins maintains this balance throughout; his story is at once both absurd and understandable, impossible and yet recognizable. It’s a parable in which is it easy to recognize our world. (This might be the perfect Sunday afternoon read if you have the Sunday dreads. I am lucky enough to not have them now, but I remember what they are like.) This is the story of orderly Here, which is so perfect it is even shaped like an egg, and the suppressed realized of the existence of There, which is beyond the sea. Residents of Here are so bent on tidy perfection and ignoring all else they literally turn their backs to the sea and do all they can not to even hear the waves.
It’s about conformity, about work being separated from meaning (after his powerpoint presentations, the protagonist Dave finds himself with “the familiar, disturbing suspicion that the real reason for all the data and the meetings for A&C even being here was fear”), and about attempts to keep chaos at bay.
Not all the attempts, despite appearances to the contrary in impeccably maintained Here, succeed. In the resulting emerging messiness Collins skewers the media/pop psychology/reality tv circus that relies on whipping up people’s fear and offers to calm them. He also subtly pokes at obsession with mobile devices, and makes less subtle points about the reframing and commodification of memory.
what is the
act of naming,
but a special kind…
of tidying away?
The art is wonderfully detailed, with soft pencil crosshatching that never feel starkly black and white. Collins uses a variety of panel layouts and full page bleeds to good effect, helping move his story along and creating a believable world in which something magnificently, fantastically impossible occurs.
Is there freedom in what looks like chaos? Is redemption for one’s part in fueling events possible? Perhaps. This is also about stories. The stories Dave tells himself as he sketches his perfect street, his neighbors, their cats. It’s about noticing things, what’s there, what’s visible, and how they aren’t always the same thing, for “stories are such necessary lies.”
Highly recommended. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a graphic novel this much. Not that you have to be a comics fan to enjoy this; it might help, but all you really need is an appreciation for the absurd and a willingness to be told a story.