On the importance of graphic novels in coping with the imminent now
As dystopian as the present may appear, it’s not something new, unprecedented, never seen before. For most of us the terminology used to describe the state we’re actually in, curfew, lockdown, shutdown et al. wasn’t part of an imaginable now. Some may recall reading about it in the books, but it never felt part of our lives. In less suspicious times references to these states popped up here and there in formats apt to inspire the mechanistic ideal and scientific belief system of the “Fortschritt durch Technik” community. The visionary side of popular culture always played with tropes on the verge of the real and the surreal fantastic. We just need to dust off some of the leather embossed volumes of forgotten lore in our library to appreciate the intellectual abilities of the authors in anticipating the most fantastic machines. Caught on the lam from society’s custody, heroines, thieves, masked and unmasked women, men always found a way to elude reality and, through technological expedients, they always got the easy way out. From captain Nemo’s Nautilus, Dr. Who’s TARDIS to H.G. Wells Time Machine, imaginary technological fashions prevailed over real world solutions – admittedly the issues they faced were of the imaginative kind too. Some things though were about to change for this branch of popular culture, when
the graphic novel became a favorite format for the avid reader of fantastic literature. With a new generation of writers, amongst others Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman et al. heroes, heroines and apparent normal people faced some sort of psychological dimension in their sketches, that required more than a merely technological expediency to cope with. Centered around the psychic states of the main characters, the plots focus on the perception of the realities that surrounds them. Confronted with the fragility and fragmentation of the world, their priority was set in abandoning most of the “easy tech” that accompanied their predecessors fighting their foes. What was left were some sort of “superpowers” born out of the unique psychological history of each character. But also their enemies underwent a dramatic change. So much that the distance between the two poles of good and bad wasn’t important anymore. The distinctive texture which surrounds the storylines, feels more like a real life patchwork, a Dadaists artwork of pastiche, an amalgamation of traits that eludes the absolute truth of the historical ideologies. To the extent that even Batman underwent a Caulfieldification. The prolongation of unresolved issues from the early adulthood into maturity entails a cynical view on the actual world. The imminent threat is then tackled with projections of possibilities based upon the amount of cynicism in regard to the imminent future. All this based upon the fantasies of supernatural salvation in the now – and chaos.
Can we spot some parallels? To the imminent Now? To the otherworldliness of the present we live in? Do these narratives represent options? Do they offer us a kind of visionary hope? We’d wish to say so. In the end, those of us, who spent a relevant amount of time in these parallel realms, we are mainly indebted to these writers for our more intimate “knowledge” about the near future.