The Art Of Not Knowing

Material_02-11There are a few things I do as a method of stress relief. I go to art galleries, I try and find a completely quiet space, I eat chocolate, and I go bin diving. Well, I go comic book bin diving. If your local comic book shop, or used bookstore is in any way decent, they’ll have a box of cheap, damaged comic books somewhere.

Maybe it’s the gratification that comes with the hunt. Everything is so accessible these days, it is rare to experience that joy of finding a book you wanted, an album you had heard about, when you can go online and have it in your hands by the end of the day. Comic book bin diving is a way of spending a small amount of money, but a good amount of time hunting nothing in particular, just whatever comics take your fancy.

In a world where print comics are increasingly expensive (I refuse to pay £5 for 5-10 minutes of my time), there is little risk involved in what you need. It’s harder to give things a chance. The internet helps too, you can find out absolutely everything about a book at least three months before its release.

The comic book bin at Orbital Comics in London is normally full of mid-1990’s or early 2000’s comics, at 20p each (or 50p for three, how can you resist?). I had already looked through the new releases and noticed a cover that spoke to me. It was red, with what looked like an American flag in pixels. The name of the book was Material, I had heard nothing about it. However, I was not going to spend £3 on a second issue I knew nothing about. Safety, and all that.

I had a nice suprise while bin diving, in seeing the first issue of Material for 20p, because the back cover had been damaged (comic book collectors who want issues in pristine condition is another story entirely). I took it home and read it. It blew my mind. I went back for issue two.

I googled casually about the author, Ales Kot, and didn’t find an enormous amount of information. I stopped myself digging deeper, I realised there was actually a pleasure in this.

I had picked this book up off the shelf (okay, bin) on its own merits. The cover looked tempting. It wasn’t tied into any event, I didn’t know the author, artist, or premise. I hadn’t read a thing about it on Twitter. It didn’t feature Superman, or Spider-Man. It had no variant covers.

I had no idea what this book was about, and I loved it anyway.

The book itself is a dense collection of stories, seemingly unconnected. There’s a college professor who begins to talk with what may be the first sentient AI. A young black boy is arrested and detained. A Guantanamo torture survivor is into some pretty kinky sex. A coked-up actress is given a second chance. Underneath each page, there are footnotes on locations, books, films and people. There’s an essay at the end of each issue on philosophy, politics and society.

I have no idea where it is going, and I am loving that.

The world of information is in the palm of our hands, literally, and it is a wonderful thing to behold, but sometimes it can take so much away from enjoyment. I remember bein ten years old and genuinely floored at the death of Professor X in the X-Men comics. Or the conclusion of Kevin Smith’s Daredevil run. Nowadays even keeping a casual eye on comic news will spoil everything. Not only do you know that Wolverine will come back to life, but you know that in four months time he’ll have a new series. You’ll know the plot, the artist and writer, the twenty variant covers.

I appreciate comics have to be that way to survive, but we seem less and less interested in the actual stories. We have to know the context of everything, the entire life story of the creators, how they feel about what came before, and what their plans are for the next year. We’re not even happy to have an entire season of House Of Cards dumped onto our laps anymore, we want it a week earlier and then we’ll demolish the entire thing in one night and move on.

The worst thing I feel is the apathy, how easy we adjust ourselves to what we have. In 1997, we would have killed for a decent superhero movie, now we tear apart movies like Amazing Spider-Man or the Avengers sequel (I never thought in my lifetime I would write about an Avengers movie, let alone a sequel) being “not as good as the first ones”. Of course we’re entitled to opinions, to enjoy what we watch and to have a critical eye, but it seems we now love to sit there, ready to judge at the first scrap of news.

Believe me, I am guilty of it too. I thought Guardians Of The Galaxy didn’t look great, I was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t a fan of the Spider-Man Brand New Day reboot, and now I’ve gone back and read everything. Yet I’ve also taken the time to tell these creators I was skeptical and ended up loving the works, I did not go online in a rage and promise to boycott everything. People feel like they know editors and directors like they live next door, that is truly scary.

I like the surprise, I like the finding things out from month to month, it’s a nostalgic experience. Ales Kot was interviewed by the fantastic John Siuntres for his program, Word Balloon, and I listened to it, but thankfully it wasn’t full of spoilers or what was coming in six months.

There’s just something about putting your phone down, picking up a book on a whim
, and just reading. It’s not that scary, try it.


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