How to warm up to insanity

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Thoughts on Prophet, Volume 1: Remission

Cover of Remission

I bought Remission on a whim. I entered the local comic store at 2pm on a Monday. It was Martin Luther King Jr. day. On Martin Luther King Jr. day American citizens are encouraged to help out their community by doing volunteer work. I did nothing volunteer-related on this day (neither did the vast majority of other Americans I know). I did however have volunteer-related fantasies. In the days leading up to this national holiday I had entertained thoughts of working to help my fellow man. You see, I enjoy fantasizing about committing to morally righteous decisions, but they are often not the decisions I choose to make. Like a serial womanizer who finds the purity of wedding ceremonies his most prominent daydream, my fantasizes are driven by wholesomeness while my actions are driven by selfishness.

And so begins my review of Remission, volume 1 of the science-fiction comic series Prophet. This is not a review of my self-assessed shortcomings, so why do I begin my review of Remission with a soliloquy on my failure to act as an admirable citizen on Martin Luther King Jr. day? Because I am insane.

Remission tells the story of the rebirth of humanity after a really, really, really long time spent extinct. Here is a lesson I learned from Remission: it is important to gently ease your audience into your insanity. Do not go reveal the depths of your divergent thinking right out the gate. Offer your audience something comprehensible, ease them into your world, and only then do you have the hero mate with an alien race whose face resembles the human vagina.

The human-vagina-faced-nymphomaniacal-alien is one of the many imaginative alien species found in Remission. And let me tell you, Remission is good. At least what I understood of it. You see, the first few chapters of Remission grabbed my attention and entertained me in a classic way. By classic, I mean to say the story had the elements readers of pop-fiction such as myself find enticing. The hero, John Prophet, is relatable yet manages to emanate an air of mystery. The world is hostile and interesting, offering John Prophet interchanging bouts of good-fortune and tragedy. John Prophet has a long-term goal that he inches closer to with every chapter. His goal: to set in motion events that will restore humanity’s presence in the universe.

Remission begins very entertaining, engaging, and understandable. Then comes chapter 4, and then all that flies out the window.

Beginning with chapter 4, the narrative begins to recoil from the classic elements of a pop-narrative which I earlier explained. Beginning with chapter 4, Remission introduced me to a comic truly alien. The art leaves the confines of Earth-inspired concepts. The hero becomes less relatable and his goals become more obscured. The narrative leaves the familiar and enters an alien unknown. I wish not to spoil by going into specifics, but I will say this: This dive off the safe path of clear narrative and into the dark waters of abstract insanity works. Why? Because the first 3 chapters gave me the tools I needed to make it through this insanity with my mind intact.

The later chapters are able to enter truly abstract and truly alien places, places that my human mind tends to avoid, without alienating my attention span. Remission can can pull off this feat because it plants seeds of understanding during the opening chapters. There are three seeds: 1) John Prophet is our hero. 2) John Prophet’s goal is to set in motion ancient plans to restore the human race. 3) The universe John Prophet finds himself in is fucking weird. As I read deeper into Remission I found it was often up to me to seek the soothing clarity offered by seeds 1 and 2, to remind myself who the hero was and what the hero’s goal was. By the final chapter, the narrative offers comprehensible plot points only as a sparse act of mercy, a dilapidated trail marker to keep a worried hiker trudging ahead.

As I look back on the table of contents for Remission, I see that I would describe more than half of the chapters as perfectly comprehensible, and only less-than-half as truly abstract and insane. Yet this review focuses on the minority of this dichotomy, I choose to focus this review on the rarer insane chapters. This imbalance is important because it displays the lesson for artists (and the insane) within Remission. When I think back on the story of Remission, it isn’t what I understood that jumps out at me, its what I didn’t. I will admit that it was the things I understood which kept me reading the story, but it was the things I did not understand which kept me from forgetting the story.

Remission taught me this: People rarely forget their encounters with insanity. If an artist wishes to use insanity to earn the attention of his or her audience, the artist must not introduce their work with an abundance of insanity. If an artist does not heed this warning the artist will lose their sane audiences. Insanity must be carefully revealed, revealed only when the audience can be trusted to stay seated through bouts of discomfort. Like salt on a french fry, insanity is insufferable on its own but irresistible when paired with something consumable. If an artist wishes their audience to remember the artist’s work, the artist must at some point put their insanity on display. But if an artist wishes their audience to absorb their creation in its entirety, the artist must prepare their audience to navigate their mind through the insanity.

I’m sorry I opened up too soon about my self-frustrations. Next time, I’ll be sure to have a nice chat with you about your day first.