Monday, February 6, 2017

Koyama: Don't Come In Here

Patrick Kyle's most recent book, Don't Come In Here, is a science-fiction effort more in the vein of Phillip K Dick than the more fantastic influences he's been drawing from of late. This is a story about paranoia, disconnection, isolation and technology. Told in Kyle's distinctive blend of visual styles and techniques, it relates the simple story of a man who moves into an unusual and ridiculously spacious apartment so he can work on his computer, and all of the weird and unpleasant things that happen afterward. Kyle's work has always been built on distortions in time and space, but this book explores more mundane aspects of those distortions that are nonetheless every bit as unnerving. The way he gets it across on the page is by pushing panel after panel on the reader in depicting an activity, be it a ten-page sequence (with two panels per page) of the protagonist trying to run down the impossibly long hallway to answer the phone. After a series of often hilarious body distortions warped into a variety of geometric shapes and sizes, the punchline in the last panel is that he's hardly made any progress at all. Similar sequences arise when he tries to deal with the dirt and dust in the apartment, kicking up a storm that takes pages to navigate, as well as the way in which time itself has become warped as his watch stops telling time in a way that makes sense.

Another funny example is the way his books, pets and even food became warped, forcing him to find ways to flatten them out (including trying to put a bigger cat on top of his warped cat to flatten it out). This also gets at another Kyle trope: disorienting the reader through near-abstraction that's thematically similar to H.P. Lovecraft's idea of "strange geometries". Common, perfectly-drawn shapes (especially the computer) interact with smudged lines, warped images, hand-drawn scribbles and other non-representational images alongside a more solid sense of reality. The dull, everyday sense of reality represented by the parallel lines of the hallway floor and simple geometric shapes are contrasted by dense, intricate drawings of jungle and deep woods images. Familiar images like squares and rectangle representing objects are threatened by drawings of entirely alien creatures lurking in the kitchen. The familiar and the solid, like the wall next to you, is revealed to be part of something far stranger and more sinister.

Very early in the narrative, the main character establishes that one's experiences are entirely dependent on one's point of view. He uses The Simpsons as an example and posits the idea that Mr. Burns is actually a kind and competent person, while it's Homer Simpson and his family who are the monsters. Unfortunately for him, that insight came in a dream and wasn't followed as practical advice, as a seemingly innocent activity (banging on the wall) turns into a bizarre warning to not come next door and to treat this seriously. Of course, he winds up doing neither, and winds up briefly trapped next door. It reflects the sort of passive/aggressive behavior he displays throughout the book. When he sees the weird creature in the kitchen, he simply chooses not to go back in there ever again rather than deal with it. When he sees the creature go next door, he ignores all directives and offends his neighbor. Even his long-suffering computer, his only friend, starts to chafe against its programming mandates and is eventually "killed" after a practical joke goes awry. He's eventually kicked out of the apartment, but the last scene is a dream where the apartment is perfectly normal and he has no problems with it. He's wondering whether he's asleep or awake and declares himself awake, though once again it's all a matter of perception. The reader certainly has no way of knowing.

All the reader can know is what's on the page, and Kyle spends a lot of time keeping the narrative zipping along in a series of vignettes. Some are self-described dreams, others are weird sequences like his bedspread and room taking on a psychedelic checkerboard pattern until he turns the light on. The reader is put through him quickly going from panel to panel but going nowhere fast. The reader experiences the unusually familiar vernacular of the computer, which is all part of the distorted nature of the figures and the way in which communication works in the apartment. In the end, it's up to the reader to interpret what's going on every bit as much as it's up to the protagonist to make his own conclusions. The end result is as absurd and amusing as it is unsettling, and that's mostly due to Kyle's masterful pacing and design.

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