Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A reader comment.

Same named reader left the following comment at the end of the ZX comic.

I think I would have said that [the revelation of ZX not being real ruined the comic for me] because I was enjoying the juxtaposition of reality and ridiculous at the time. The story from the beginning was something I was relating to. Perhaps this comes from my own conviction that we live in an invented reality anyway. I know I have several different lives running at once, dependent on which viewpoint I wish to take at the time. This is essentially what stereotyping and caricature are, that is, a selective viewpoint of certain points of reality, and probably what all story telling is also.

The revelation of ZX as form of emotional self management took my ability to relate away. Not because I have no loss to deal with, but because Stephan is forced to face his realities, and I am reasonably sure that like most people, I will usually take the easy way out and choose to never notice the reality exists. Because once that point is passed, it cannot be retrieved.

I find myself feeling hollow at the end of this story. Something so conclusive is very difficult to feel optimistic about. However this reaction is probably all about 'not wanting to look directly inside a wound.', therefore the point is essentially achieved? Besides, a story that leaves me feeling less than happy is a story that will stay with me for longer. Satisfaction is easy to forget, discontent rankles longer.

I don't know if this comment knows how much I enjoyed engaging with this story, because I really did. It's the whimsy and human weakness intermingled with the tragedy that get me hooked. Like Shakespeare who could never stop making jokes even when all his characters died in the end. Life just isn't made to be take seriously because so many things go wrong that what can but acknowledge the ridiculous? Even when you are in love you are always going to be thinking about how your pants are itchy or the dishes need washing.

Anyway, I'll be buying this when I can, and reading it several times over.

Besides my sincerest thanks for it, a wordy reply follows the jump.

Eliza, while I was reading your comment I became increasingly lightheaded.

Your initial read of the ZX robot as a 'magical realist' entity is how I had used him in past stories. I too see no reason to offer explanations for why a robot would intermingle with human beings in the abstract: whatever serves the point of the story, namely an expose of humanity and a degree of pathos, would do.

It is apt you stopped relating when you did. I made a point when making this to try to create increasing distance for the reader and the characters. I did not want them to live vicariously through the storyline as escapism wasn't my goal (and actually if I were to let them 'escape' into such a harrowing place then that'd be pretty sadistic of me). Well, I was a bit cruel. At the beginning I set something of a 'false hook' to lure the reader in what appears to be a 'boy meets girl' scenario, and I gradually pulled the carpet underneath it. I am glad that your inability to relate didn't keep you for reading the rest of it and that it was effective nonetheless for you.

The concept of alienation is not a new one (Bertolt Brecht) but it is one that's hardly employed in most comics (though definite examples like Chris Ware's and Dan Clowes' work shine). I might be misinterpreting it but it serves me right even through misinterpretation: I want readers (myself foremost) to read this and accept certain things. To stand intellectually against them as much - if not more - as they stand emotionally for the characters. The idea is not to 'like' Stephan or Mary in this story (in fact I added a lot that I personally find uncomfortable, that make me like the characters less and even feel embarrassed about them), it is to accept their existence and their situation as a reality. Not a conception of their existence that might suit the reader, like how we look at our friends and family (ever notice how sometimes we'd rather not hear the problems of our friends and family because we'd rather pretend they *have* no problems?). The only power of the terms 'reality' and 'existence' comes from this acceptance after all. If you can shut off a reality five minutes after experiencing it (like with most Hollywood films, for example) then you haven't accepted anything, it was just tourism.

This is what looking inside the wound means to me, and it's unbearable but we have to survive it. To survive it we need to breathe inside the trauma, adapt. This is what art does, it enforces a reality in which certain (be them brave or destructive or irresponsible or ridiculous or hilarious or whatever else) effects can be attempted and their results be binding for a time. Art is a spell.

In this particular piece, we try desperately to think that things that cannot be, are. And that things that certainly are, can not possibly be. But in the end we have to look directly in the wound and steel ourselves for the answer we find. That's what this story is about and that's what all characters in it go through.

Stephan wants his friend though he's not there and Mary wants Stephan though he's not there and the reader wants their romantic comedy though it's not there. What's there is worse, the worst. And then, hopefully, it becomes better. Slowly.

Thank you for reading and thank you for commenting. Mail like this makes it worthwhile for me to publicize my work.


Eliza said...

Dear Helm,
I am giddy with delight and I prefer my balloons broken if they are drawn by you.

It feel is very difficult to alienate an audience completely, because as self obsessed creatures we relate everything back to the self. i.e "this is how I feel, this was my reaction, it was about me because...". The need to relate everything back to one's personal identity. Because though we try not to admit it (that would be far too narcissistic), we are the center of the universe and our own number one obsession.

Which is why I can say things like: I really like your characters. Not because they are nice people but because they are excellent depictions of how undignified humanity really is. How everyone pretty much just staggers from one patch of chaos to another, never finding a meaning in it all, and never satisfied. And the things that should be perfect, that in myth are seamless and wonderful, like art and sex and success are actually awkward and messy and a lot of hard work.

You can't stop people relating, people want to engage. That's why films are changed if they get bad test reactions. If we don't like what's happening we can't switch off and if the story takes you to a bad place, you just have to go with it.

Your story made me feel. And think. Ergo; a raging success.

Agnes said...

Since you started drawing this, I've been going through something similar to Stephan's process. That is, becoming aware of and abandoning an elaborate thought mechanism (though less... psychotic and without the trauma). Once I started seeing it as an analogy to my own experience, it no longer evoked much emotion in me, apart from a sense of acknowledgement. Perhaps it means that, for me, you picked the right conclusion.

I hope you get it published. I would like to keep it as a memento.

Helm said...

Eliza, if the book ever gets published and you pick up a copy, remind me to send you the drawing in the mail. I'd send it right now but I'm ridiculously awful with mailing stuff out, I avoid it outright, actually. Thank you again for the kind words.

Agnes, I'm glad the comic could serve as a catalyst for anything positive. I couldn't ask for anything more.

Having helped others ever so slightly is the only thing that's going to count for me at final tally.