Book Club / Trying to Point Towards Something That’s Wider and Wilder and Beyond

ProphetProphet Vol 1: Remission
By Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple and Giannis Milogiannis




“John Prophet is awake.”

I still remember the first time I started reading Prophet. I’d heard lots of people talking about it and was excited to see what the fuss was about but I figured it wasn’t really going to be anything that exciting. Some kind of mild diversion maybe. I think I was thinking it was going to be like Rambo in Space or something. 

The best way to describe the feeling of reading those first few issues (which I think are still the highlight for the whole series for me) is basically like falling head first off the top of something very very high. Like the famous opening page of The Incal. Only instead of futuristic cities that are now fully established cliches (come on now – when was the last time you saw a futuristic city that actually felt new?) Prophet is genuinely showing you things you’ve never even imagined seeing before. 

I’ve been making this argument for a long time I know but I’m pretty much convinced that of all the genres out there Science-Fiction is the genre that comics do best. If you want to write a kitchen sink realist thingie about the slow breakup of a marriage or whatever then there’s not really all that much that a comic can add. And if the proliferation of superhero movies has taught us anything it’s that superheroes work just as well as on the big screen as they do on the page (possibly even better maybe?). Same with westerns and romances and everything else. But with science-fiction. Well. I mean usually people associate science-fiction with proper (no pictures!) books but in some ways that’s kinda the worst possible vehicle for exploring strange new worlds seeing how you can’t see anything and everything has to be tediously described word by word. And yeah ok there are lots of good science-fiction movies but those are often restricted by annoying tedious things like “not having enough money to do it properly.” Plus the fact that it’s all 24 frames a second means that everything has to be done on the run and means that you get groan-worthy scenes of exposition where one character very slowly has to explain to another character how something works. Or failing that – they just add a big chunk of text to the start of the movie and have that do all the heavy lifting. 

But comics are different. With a comic instead of trying to describe a strange new beast or a fancy piece of technology you can just – show it. And because it’s a comic book as a reader you can spend as much time as you like looking things over and taking them in. Which you know – is nice. And adds to the feeling of depth. Because it means that you can take a lot of time to really luxuriate yourself.

At this point I’ll confess that there’s not that many science-fiction comics that really spring to mind. There’s Judge Dredd of course. The Filth. Oh and Martha Washington Goes to War. But you know – none of them really go all that far. And are mostly mainly concerned with the aesthetics rather than exploring any far out ideas…

(Although LOL actually maybe that’s a dumb point to make. Because really Prophet doesn’t really explore any crazy science-fiction ideas either. I mean unlike a science-fiction novel say there’s not really any big philosophical ideas that Prophet is exploring. It’s not really one of those books that has anything to say (or if there is then I guess I missed it). But then again maybe most comics don’t really say that much? Unless they’re by Alan Moore of course – wink).

But wait yeah – what did I say before? Oh that’s right. Mostly being concerned with the aesthetics (and again well yeah maybe that’s what comics do best?)  Prophet is (and I say this in the best way possible) is very much an aesthetic experience in a way that often left my brain feeling that someone had dipped it in an extra large vat of coke and then stirred it around with a giant spoon. There are images and sequences in this book that I can’t explain. Pictures where I can’t even tell what I’m looking at. Feeling like maybe I’ve stumbled into a dream and yet at the same time knowing that if I could look a million years into the future then it would probably all be as strange and as confusing and as otherworldly as this. 

It’s a comic that shows me things that I’ve seen before. And I’m not sure I could ever want anything more.   

This is what comics do best. 

So many people have written so many words about the need and reasons for Representation in the stories they read that I’m pretty sure you don’t need me to repeat them. Still. People like to read stories and see themselves inside them. There’s a power in seeing someone just like you up on the silver screen or between the pages of a book. And that’s the one thing we need urgently right now – more stories from diverse voices featuring diverse characters. So that people can see themselves represented. 

I don’t feel like I’ve made any secret of the fact that this isn’t really a viewpoint that I share. I mean yeah I get it and I think I can understand the reasons behind it. Or you know maybe I’m just too privileged or whatever to really connect with the idea on an emotional level. 

The thing is tho – when I read a book or watch a film the thing I’m hoping for is the opposite of representation. I don’t want to see or inhabit characters that see the world in the same way that I do. And I don’t want them to look like me. I’m not hoping to see my own life reflecting back at me. No thank you. 
Because what I want and what I’m hungry for and what I’m looking for is escape. And the things that grab me are people and places that are beyond my own experience. 

Which is a big part of the reason why I love Prophet so much.

I mean yeah ok you could make the argument that actually I’m being really disingenuous. After all John Prophet looks like an average white dude. Which means (so the logic goes) that I can connect to him in a way I couldn’t if he was a black dude. Or a white woman. Or something else. But then one of the things that I find so captivating about Prophet is the way in which – throughout the course of its run – keeps twisting and turning John Prophet into all sorts of weird and crazy shapes…

The experience of reading it has the same kind of effect on my brain. This thing that you thought was one thing is slowly warped and mutated into something completely differently… other and strange and new. 
Maybe this is too much of an overreach but I feel like this approach puts it completely at odds with the majority of the comics that are being created today which instead favour safety and familiarity. Retelling stories that have already been told but swapping in characters with different identity markers. And well yeah obviously the irony doesn’t escape me – that in arguing against the idea of Representation I’m actually trying to point towards something that’s wider and wilder and beyond the recommended prescribed diet of (to be honest) reheated left-overs. 

I mean as everyone always likes to say – comics can do anything. So why should we restrict ourselves to the world we’ve already got?

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