My rating: 3 of 5 stars
My review of wunderkind comics writer Ales Kot’s graphic novel, Change, was sufficiently scathing that I did not even repost it to my main site. In short, I found his work derivative and emptily trendy, an instance of the so-called ’90s revival, with added ludicrous political posturing.
His earlier book, Wild Children—his first graphic novel—embraces his influences totally. Not only does the dialogue reference the works of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, but footnotes direct the reader to interpretive essays on Morrison’s Invisibles and to blog posts on hauntology (by K-Punk, aka Mark Fisher, whom I remember so well from my days in the Marxist blog wars of a decade ago; see here, for an example of such wars, which carry on today on Twitter and elsewhere in the polemical stand-offs between “Tankies” and their anarchist, Trotskyist, and social-democratic enemies, confrontations upon which I sometimes spectate even though I have long since become an apolitical artist).
I prefer Kot in this overtly referential mode, not least because he is speaking to my own nostalgia; in this book, he even quotes my favorite song on Blur’s Think Tank, a song that sends me back through proverbially Proustian anamnesis to the fall of 2003, walking to the morning classes of my senior year of college through stormy September mornings, wondering what I would do with the rest of my life. (Hey, if you don’t want me to reminisce, don’t indulge pop-culture nostalgia.)
Wild Children essentially does The Invisibles in miniature: a seeming rebellion of anarchy/youth against authority/age proves itself more complex as the author recapitulates the conflict on a higher metaphysical level, revealing political rebellion to be more like a metaphor for grasping the essence of magic: the transformation of reality through consciousness.
What begins as a story becomes a tract, as the iconographically genderqueer students lecture the staid teachers on how “magic is sequence”—i.e., how comics, through their very form, embody the perceptual Burroughsian cut-up that allows the imagination to intervene in reality’s gaps and produce a new reality. Tricks of storytelling and even color (the colorist Gregory Wright is perhaps more the star of this show than artist Riley Rossmo, whose broken ligne claire left me wanting more) do a lot of conceptual work here.
Moreover, the book theorizes its own belatedness though references to hauntology, which I understand only vaguely (after I finished my graduate coursework, I excused myself from reading any more Derrida; and while I did peruse a fair amount of Frère Jacques’s works before then, I never did get around to Specters of Marx):
Our world is haunted by itself. It’s constantly pregnant with its own overthrowing. Every day, every hour, every minute—it gives us tools with which we can change its threads…we just need to see the gutters.
Kot here brings poststructuralism to Scott McCloud’s structuralism: where McCloud saw the gutters—the gaps between comics panels—as the incitement for the readerly imagination to provide closure and wholeness, Kot invites the reader to widen the gaps and let the revolutionary future leak out of the fissures in the past.
Wild Children, therefore, is a brief but thorough digest of the last 25 years or so in radical thought from both the academic and pop culture fringes, a celebration of the aesthetic idealism that has (so bizarrely, in historical perspective) grafted itself onto Marxism after the collapse of the communist states, such as the one in which Kot grew up. In that sense, it could be called a useful book, which is not a bad thing for a book to be, even if I remain, as I do, unconvinced of its general artistic merit.