How do you draw bleak? How do you illustrate the haunted, tortured soul residing inside a man? How do you communicate the unbearable?
I don’t know the answers to those questions, but Mikkel Sommer does. He knows them all. In Obsolete, he captures a bleakness so palpable I nearly wanted to put this comic book down and walk away from it to get some distance from the feelings it contained. I didn’t, but not just because I wanted to know “what happens next,” but because I wanted to see how Sommer would capture the emotions of whatever was next. The doing mattered here, but the telling mattered just as much.
This is a comic (it's hard to use that term as it's clearly more tragic then comic, but that's just grade school talking) with very little dialogue, exposition or narration. It tells a story with pictures in a way that only pictures can. It's a story, in a sense, that we’ve all heard and seen (mostly in movies) some variation on. A story of a veteran, haunted by his experience and unable to live a “normal” life after being at war. It illustrates how veterans, the ones who survive, end up becoming victims nevertheless, victims of something that may not be as final as death, but debiliates and annihilates just the same. Caught in that victimhood, they try endlessly to escape in all sorts of ways.
So, if we’ve seen it all before, why read this comic? Because, for one, ts easier to find the time to read this comic then it is to sit down and take in a two hour movie that has to slather more and more onto it just to beef up the runtime. Read it for its form, it's integrity. Read for a lesson in amazing storytelling and keeping it simple. It's pure. Did you, like I, learn in high school that the best way to write a succinct paper was to ask a question in your opening paragraph, and then in the final paragraph write “in conclusion....” and clearly answer the question you asked and use the middle of the paper to prove your point? It's a stilted, structured system, but it's efficient. That efficency is what I found Sommer doing with this format. His drawings delivered emotion and story, momentum and pace, making the words unnecessary.
The first page shows our protagonist lying in bed - he’s under a blanket, his hairy chest bared, sporting long-ish hair, a beart and sweating profusely. On the last page, our man is lying the exact same way - centered in the page - only this time his eyes are closed rather than open, and he's not sweating anymore. I’m not sure what the question is that the doubling answers. His peace? His rest? I don't want to answer that, or maybe I'm just not sure I can. There's an angry orange, a rusted red palate thoughout this book, one that feels like heat, like a desert or a dry box. By that last page, I felt like I'd been out in the heat too long...tired, dehydrated, loopy in a way that wasn't funny. I can't imagine that wasn't on purpose. I can't imagine I'm not under another's control.
The whole book is lovely to look at. It's a true pleasure to hold in ones hands, one of the most well made comics I've ever touched. There's a weight to the book and the pages are sturdy. I found the whole thing so easy to read and get lost in. It's one of those comic books that makes me feel glad that comic books exist, and grateful that I had the opportunity to read this story.
However painful. However poignant.
-Nina Stone, 2011