By Jason Karlson
Ales Kot has a lot on his mind. Always one for a punchy title, this one is the most appropriate and self aware yet. Material is something that Kot has more than enough of. It’s essentially what these very human stories could become in the hands of a writer working in a larger industry. Material has four solid concepts, premises that fleshed out on their own could keep a writer busy for years. More than anything it leaves you with the impression that this would be far too slow and drawn out a process for Kot, as he races between the four distinct narratives of his new series. What stops them from being mere material, entertainment fodder here, seems to be a genuine interest on the part of Kot in starting a discourse on these subjects. This, as he has said, is the stuff that keeps him sane.
Four unconnected narratives sharing only the barest of themes. A detainee from Guantanamo Bay, home and struggling to feel human. Seeking out extremes to feel anything. A strung out, washed up actress given a second chance by a hot Hollywood auteur and encouraged to fill in the blanks. A young black protester, illegally detained by the authorities. Scared and degraded. Lastly a Professor, Julius Shore whose stories touch briefly on the singularity and new technologies whilst railing pointlessly against the next generation for being cold and detached, later contacted by a something claiming to be an AI. Shore engages, realising that at worst that this will still make the perfect anecdote. Perfect material. Increasing his own net worth, but still vainly hoping to have a genuine, new experience. If there’s any connecting theme, it’s worth. Self worth and our worth to other people. Material’s competing narratives are fragmented, almost like the news, jumping back and forth every few pages. With Kot’s other works in mind, I’m left wondering if it’s a deliberate reflection on how we are expected to consume information, more and more, faster and faster, in this accelerated age. Professor Shore would certainly prescribe to that.
The stories, in some cases barely fictionalised are presented starkly and without dressing. There isn’t any oppressive sci-fi government, or aliens for these ideas to play against, asking us to see similarities to real life events. No high concepts. Just real events, or a thinly disguised simulacrum of them. Ripped from screen to page. Details injected into the stories. “I can’t breath” on a yellow sign, alerting us to events barely a year old. The enthusiasm and concern pours out onto the white space of the page. Footnotes pointing to essays, films and music. Like a friend giving out recommendations, they hint at the real life influences, revealing the Material that fuels this comic. Hints and gentle pushes to further reading, the encouragement to read beyond this comic. Go on it says, I dare you, find out more, give a sh*t.
What is striking for anyone familiar with Kot’s impressive and growing body of work is how surprisingly straightforward the stories are presented. While the structure, colouring and other details might ask for further, deeper analysis the stories are presented simple and brutal. Given space to speak and breathe for themselves. If anything, the details and minutiae of each character drives Material, rather than any of the writer’s usual interesting storytelling affectations. It’s disarming in how honest, easy to read, and seemingly simplistic it is on the surface. Will Tempest’s artwork is perfectly matched to Kot’s story, his figures becoming detailed or less refined when needed and has a loose roughness that matches the narrative. His colour work should be noted here, the muted and limited palette separates the stories and the characters, as if they exist in different worlds, which to a certain extent they do.
For a first issue, it might seem underwhelming for some readers used to no-holds-barred attention grabbing first issues, instead presenting itself as the first part of a much larger story without any real big pitch to sell to readers. Given its subject matter, anything else would seem crass. With several ideas questions and plot points left lingering, Material is confusing, dense and enigmatic in all the right ways.
We know only two things for certain of Jason Karlson; that he was born on the wagon of a traveling show to Latverian parents, and that tales of his orgins are wholely fictional. His writing style is pithy and insightful, with hints of oak and red berry, finished with earthy tones and somber notes. If he were to describe himself in a single word it would likely be self deprecating. He occasionally tweets over at @marfedfolf.