Living Statues

Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2007
By: Steve Saville

Cover of Living Statues Creator(s): Emily Blair
Publishers: Locust Comics
From: USA
Price: US$ 3.50

Visually this is a beautifully crafted comic. Blair’s scratchboard approach to her art work means that the frames have an etched appearance, most look like wood blocks. The care and attention to detail that permeates each and every page is a joy to behold.

This alone makes this comic worth purchasing but it is so much more than a visual treat. The style does, however, compliment perfectly the tense and withered sate of the comic’s main character, John, the art historian. The scratched and fine lined detailed of Blair’s presentation matches his inner exhaustion and ensures that words and pictures march in perfect harmony in what is a riveting tale of a tired and socially retarded middle aged academic.

Uptight John is spending a hot resentful summer in Florence, Italy with his exuberant prep school students. He is a joyless individual, uncomfortable in social situations. The joyful and jocular energy of his students annoys him, the young, local street performing statues annoy him, a dog barking annoys him, and the tourists with their cameras annoy him. In fact anything living seems to annoy him. It is perfectly summed up on the first page when he is arranging his lecture slides and “the slides of Florence showed no people.”

He resents and is tired of the human interaction that surrounds him to the extent that he even fails to engage in the overt flirting of one of the adult chaperons on the tour.

He slumps his way through the comic’s pages with eyes downcast avoiding any visual connection with those around him. As he says at one point, “stupid, stupid, stupid,” that repeated word accurately sums up his impression of those around him. In fact one of the few times he does lift his head is when he is telling a lie about his ex wife.

Much of the prose is in the form of an interior monologue that emphasises his emotionally barren state, he considers the behaviour of his students to be innane and uneducated. In reality his thoughts reveal far more about himself than those that surround him and we quickly come to realise just what a husk of a man he is. Again the scratchy white lines on black base capture this mood beautifully.

The attention to detail is impressive and anyone who has been to Florence will enjoy walking around its streets once again.

In the end he looks down on two of the individuals he shunned earlier in the week and watches, vicariously, them being drawn together. The slight smile that creeps across his lined face on this final page, dominated as it is by close ups, indicates that maybe, finally a glimmer of enlightenment has occurred, maybe there is hope after all, or maybe that is just how John prefers it, watching others live the life that scares him. The irony of it all is that he is, in reality, a ‘living statue’ similar in many ways to the statues he lectures about but the exact opposite of the young street performers who pretend to be statues but ultimately are full of a life that he lacks.

As a slice of life short story the prose presented could stand alone but when the visual is added to it we are given a rare and rewarding treat. Not every frame works but when they do we are overwhelmed with a richness of detail that warrants a considered pause to take it all in.

In a Word: Etched.

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