Friday, December 31, 2021

31 Days Of CCS #40: Aaron Cockle

Aaron Cockle keeps cranking out oblique, bizarre takes on capitalism and culture in the form of a world-exploring video game called Andalusian Dog, and he released four issues of the comic named after the game between February of 2021 and January of 2022. The word "surreal" gets over-used in popular culture to mean "weird" or "uncanny," but the roots of the art movement are deeply involved in an exploration of the unconscious mind and its symbols. How we encounter and process these symbols is not the same as it was a century ago when the movement began, and Cockle's comics are a response to both modern art and technological movements, their intersection, and their being co-opted by industry and capitalism.


The February 2021 issue of Andalusian Dog is titled "Ladder of Fire," a reference to the Rene Magritte painting of a key, an egg, and a wad of what looks like paper all on fire. Ordinary objects, all in the process of change and possible purification; ordinary objects in the process of being destroyed. In this issue, the paranoia and conspiracy attached to the game take on a different aspect as the narrator is dropped off in Los Angeles with a tent, a sleeping bag, a $100 gift card, and a backpack. His first move is to download Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and then overlay Andalusian Dog over it. The overlay lists the narrator's own health while providing a map to navigate his environment (since the game was based on Los Angeles). The distance between game and reality becomes nil, and the whole experience is a punishment for various crimes--real and imaginary. There's a desperate sense in this story and the next of secretly and surreptitiously working on borrowed laptops about theories of salvation; in the former story, it's the Ladder. In both stories, there's a sense of total societal abjection for the narrator, of being thrown down and thrown out of society. Yet there's a kind of desperate freedom in that. 

The November 2021 issue may be my single favorite issue of the series. Titled, "The Pit," there's once again a press-ganged aspect of the story as the narrator must help build a structure where the pit must be as deep as the tower is high, and the wall must be as long as the height of the tower. It's all for a mysterious Count as Cockle heads straight into Kafka territory, as he talks to his friends and becomes the founding and sole member of the Franz Kafka Fan Fiction Society. Later, he is thrown out of his own organization, of which he is still the sole member. Later still, he and his friends (all labeled X) are sent on a mission to an outpost for for work, Finding the outpost abandoned, part of the group searches for the group that left the outpost, leading to more abandoned outposts, more lost people, and more expeditions. Eventually, it becomes an existential game where one's own identity is in question, a sort of open-world video game where the mission eats itself. Cockle overlays maps and diagrams with less to do with standard cartography and more with game logic. 

The December 2021 issue goes back to Chile, a frequent setting in Cockle's comics. The makers and developers of the game find that the game is affecting real life, and real life is affecting game play, and they don't know how this happened. Cockle himself is a character, referring to his own comics and finding reviews of work that he's never published or even conceptualized. Once again, there's a sense of always being on unfamiliar or dubiously claimed ground, squatting in abandoned houses and finding ways to work and even throw parties. All along, the images are nightmarish but clinical; office buildings, cubicles, strange geometry in a Lovecraftian sense. Cockle is deliberately conflating dream logic with virtual reality, trying to find the line between the two--if there even is one. 

Finally, the January 2022 issue betrays almost a kind of mania, as huge walls of text appear on each page, overlaid with diagrams, sketches and scribbles that sometimes border on the abstract. It's difficult to even begin to parse, as it's a stream-of-consciousness journal about traveling to Chile once again. The back half of the issue goes in the opposite direction: oblique bursts of text paired with clip-art, diagrams, photos, blotches of ink, maps, and other ephemera. Providing an appendix perhaps only for himself, there are also excerpts from an essay about Kafka and The Decameron. This is the most oblique and self-referential of all of Cockle's comics, seeming lost in its own maze of logic, having long ago abandoned clarity with regard to narrative and plot. It's also barely what I would consider to be a comic. 

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