Rhythm & Rhyme: Asthma, The Blot and Comics-As-Poetry (Part Three of Three)

Posted by on December 10th, 2009 at 12:01 AM

Previously: Part One, Part Two.

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Tom Neely and The Blot
Like Hankiewicz, Tom Neely’s The Blot (self-published) uses familiar, old-time cartoon imagery and then subverts its use in a visceral, violent manner. Informed and influenced by Floyd Gottfredson’s old Mickey Mouse comics, among other artists of the era, Neely introduces the reader to the sort of rubbery, cartoony figure that is aesthetically conventional in such a story. When the nameless protagonist is confronted with an apparently ravenous blot of ink that often fills up an entire page, it becomes the ultimate apocalypse for a cartoon character: the obliteration of identity and form on the page.

However, the blot is composed of ink, the raw stuff of cartoon creation, full of possibility. As the protagonist proceeds, the blot alternatively (and sometimes simultaneously) represents creation, destruction, seduction, sexuality, brutality, oblivion and, above all else, knowledge. When the protagonist is spotted by a woman in a cafe who instantly understands his dilemma, she awakens this knowledge of his potential as master of his own fate and world. It is not unlike Eve offering Adam the fruit from the tree of knowledge. The blot acts as the stuff of being and identity.

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The protagonist’s immediate reaction to his newfound power over his reality is to immediately recreate a conventional existence for the woman with whom he is now in love. However, it is clear that she is attracted to possibility, power and motion above all else. She despises the static life that the protagonist offers her, so she betrays him for a monstrous, all-black wolf-creature. It is not a coincidence that she is attracted to a creature consisting entirely of ink, the stuff of creation, a creature that fully embraces the possibilities of its power and the potential for violence that this entails. Confronting the protagonist, she compels him to commit horrific acts of violence upon himself. The violence is brutal and visceral but simultaneously cartoonish and uncomfortably realistic, as though Mickey Mouse had been savagely battered, beaten and splintered. She then tenderly kisses the protagonist and tells him everything is going to be all right, and he is then healed by the blot, having had an epiphany.

Neely’s use of vibrant color on the last few pages of the story indicates, perhaps, that the protagonist has a more full understanding of his potential. Formally, The Blot is a manifestation of the creative urge. The artist is creator and destroyer of his character’s lives and narratives, and Neely here imbues his hero with the same power. That power is both liberating and frightening, and Neely expresses it with images that are both familiar and mysterious. He takes advantage of the reader’s comfort and knowledge of cartoon images and then re-imagines them, instilling in them the possibilities of life, death, sex and purpose.

The Blot functions as comics-as-poetry in the way that it subverts a reader’s familiarity with its imagery, turning it on its head. The reader must grapple with Neely’s use of abstract (but still formally contextualized) ink blots as a device designed to elicit emotion. While Neely provides various visual and textual cues that offer hints as to what feelings he’s trying to portray, it’s up to the reader to interpret them. Neely’s use of nostalgic cartoon imagery for his figure work is quite deliberate and jarring, forcing the reader to understand these seemingly familiar characters in a new emotional context. The use of cartoon masks to “cover up” emotion, the oppressiveness of a seemingly endless sea of blank-faced characters trying to smother the protagonist, and the way that lines appear and disappear (literally rewriting reality for the characters) are examples of how typical comics tropes are subverted and repurposed to elicit terror and wonder for both the characters and the readers.

That meta-awareness of the reader being constantly reminded by Neely that he is working with ink on paper serves as both a narrative abstraction and emotional intensification for the reader, who is drawn into the lives of the characters through the simplicity of their iconic representation. While there is a narrative of sorts in The Blot, it is a narrative of ideas and emotions more than a conventional one. Neely achieves a level of immediacy on each page, creating a powerful emotional shorthand designed to get across the intensity of feeling, be it dread, joy, fear, desperation or longing. His iconic imagery acts as dense bundles of emotional information that, when unpacked by the reader, provide a powerful experience and insight into the creative process.

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