Monday, September 2, 2013

Off Center: The Grey Museum

Lorenz Peter's The Grey Museum (Conundrum Press) is the sort of relentlessly weird sci-fi/psychedelic social satires that one might have seen in the 60s or 70s but is much rarer now. This is the kind of book that begins with the end of the world and awkwardly crams in introductions to its huge cast and their bizarre interconnections in the span of just four pages. Once the reader gets past the crazy premise of aliens known as Greys slowly taking over earth by turning everything into "awrt" and sipping coffee, the book is surprisingly readable (if episodic). OF course, they are all clones of a middle-aged man wearing a cardigan, dully "contemplating" the precious "awrt". If that seems like a ham-fisted critique of the art world, that's because it is. However, in Peter's hands, the critique is less important than the crazy things he does with these aliens, who prove to be a genuine source of humor as the villains of the piece.

The human characters include send-ups of acid casualties and Barbarella-type characters, but are mostly just stock fodder that Peter moves around his crazy environments. One man wanders into the earth goddess's cave and becomes his lover, but not before she rips his penis off and replaces it with a branch. His ex-lover is impregnated by a serpent god who takes the form of a 70s rocker-type. Other characters wander through a tour of hell. Gods show up to perform raps, including some sentient lumpy flesh in a shoe. In a book where everything is completely ridiculous, the ridiculous starts to make sense. That's precisely what happens as the book ambles along, the spine of a plot slowly emerging as the goddess slowly starts to fight to get earth back to its natural state while fending off the serpent god. The humans act as vessels, messengers, recorders and even (briefly) heroes as they bounce around the universe.

Peter's art reminds me a little of Gilbert Shelton's, only a little more scribbly. He leans heavily on grey-scaling, which gives the book a somewhat bland feel. Of course, rooting this craziness in a bit of visual blandness rather than overwhelming the reader with vivid colors is not a bad decision for Peter, who also delves into Looney Tunes style slapstick in the climactic final battle between the goddess and the Grays as the humans are caught in the middle. That sense of cartoon silliness pervades the book even as the characters are trying to work through their emotions (the most moving being a man named Willy in love with acid casualty Mel). The cartooniness also creates an elastic sense of reality (again, not unlike a Bugs or Daffy cartoon) where anything is possible and having a character die a horrible death on the page doesn't necessarily mean that they're gone. The book is a tad too cartoony to actually feel too bad when characters actually die or try to make emotional connections. Still, it's a pleasant and funny enough ride for a reader inclined to to engage with some cosmic slapstick.

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