Material ruminates on universal emotions and distills them through a process of stripping them down to a core pathos challenging pathetic fallacies by attributing the pity and depression and oppression to a purely human experience of trauma. Ales Kot weaves four main lives together into this essential concept of necessity in order to live. We are voyeurs as readers, watching these all too real depictions of life through a mirror held to these distilled “characters” that really reflect in ourselves. There’s a common connection between us and them that exists through the air between them, the heartbreak of inability to truly control our lives.
WRITTEN BY: Ales Kot
ART BY: Will Tempest
PUBLISHER: Image Comics
RELEASE DATE: July 29, 2015
The professor has cracked in a brilliant display of artistic narcissism; He’s an amalgam of a now self-exiled believer in Francesco Bernardi’s technophobia, a simplified Jean-Luc Godard puppet, an embodiment of a man broken by self-obsession through reference. With a few changes to the language, to some this could also describe Kot as a writer pretending to be pretentious; however, he is no hack like this professor character that he could become in one alternate universe. Instead, he understands the importances footnotes under the panels and is connecting the dots between the classes of the characters and their individual struggles to map out the central connectivity between the want, the desire, and the need. This is a work from an author and a creative team of fantastic artists that wants us to read beyond the fiction and take what feelings that come up while reading and apply them to the world around us. It’s a fucked up world full of deeply disturbing factoids becoming truths, racism becomes a public passive truism, militarization is the norm. It’s a safety issue.
In a quickly distilled and far too Westernized cliff-notes interpretation for the sake of space that sacrifices the nuance, the second of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism addresses these desires and the sufferings we create in order to live and reach Nirvana. How do we satisfy the craving for more? The professor can’t comprehend that his academic climbing has been for not, because it hasn’t, there is meaning for him; however, his encounter with the A.I shatters his idealized perception of self and success and he becomes the representation. He is a sign that only realizes he’s a sign when presented with his life as the output of a theory. His life is not a lie, but a reflection of what he never wanted to be and the pressure on that fracture breaks him down.
The professor is the least interesting character, yet because of his knowledge and arguably some questionable wisdom, he is the obsessive connection to a disparate existence of an A.I. through his single computer. This demonstrates privilege –– he has the time to explore his curiosity, he has the means to this discourse, and he has the luxury of access to the internet. Now, all those components, which are explicitly tied to his own clearly cis, white, male with higher-education privilege, are coming together in this issue. The opening pages are again from the professor’s perspective, if he weren’t actually questioning his reality outside of the classroom strapping dynamite (albeit fake) around his head would be an eccentric lesson in surrealism used to make a certain point about observation, an example to shock his students out of their screens. No, this was his way to reference Pierrot le Fou, but co-opting the imagery for his own benefit. He is a sad clown, though, and I wonder if he’ll become the link between the A.I. and the “real world.” I wonder if he knows it must be a rouse. I wonder if he will explode.
I have no mouth and must scream territory — this A.I. wants to learn, but is limited despite constant access through cameras. Like the professor, we are engaged in this learning process and obsessed with the idea that there is something else that wants to know about ourselves as much as we do. There’s a longing to be understood, to be more than a character. More succinctly, we relate directly to the actress who wants to be real and it must be viewed by an outsider to have meaning beyond simplification. We long to be complex.
After the professor’s mental breakdown, we’re in the world of contrasts and two chaotic neutrals of Hollywood. Nylon’s agent ropes her back into a world that encouraged abuse for a purely selfish reason, despite his expressions to the contrary. He’s mansplaining to her constantly about who she should be, what the audience wants her to be, for profit. She’s a pawn who wants to be a queen, but nothing is under her control after signing a contract. Blue and orange coloring here is a well established trope to display moral framework completely off the charts of “normal.” It’s foreboding because these characters are surface level just doing regular business, but it’s more sinister than that. With her first snippet of introduction, we know she has a gun and a drug problem. That gun will go off, or it will become a MacGuffin, but either way it’s important because it’s mentioned so many times, how could it be ignored. How they react, how we react, to when it either does or doesn’t go off, will show which color we’re associated with by our own definitions of morality. How will that feel? She wants to feel real, but reality sucks and our worst fears are self-perpetuated, just like she doesn’t want to become a product of her genetic heritage. She wants to be art. Reality is that she may never have control over her life, but what does that cost? Here’s the core commentary on monetary cost as a burden on mental growth and self-identity. It’s not a question if you’re a product, rather a question of which product you are and to whom. How much are you worth? Value versus price versus worth.
These two are struggles of privilege. I know I keep repeating that word, and it’s important, and I could include footnote after footnote about what that means and why that is important, but it’s all here in Material. It’s in the names of all the black men and women who have been tortured, brutalized, and murdered by cops, just recently. It’s real. Police brutality is real and Kot wants us to know, too. Research it. Look them up and read their stories –– Kiwane Carrington, 15, shot by because his hands were in his pockets and “not obeying orders,” McKenzie Cochran, 25, killed by mall security and the first of too many cries of “I Can’t Breathe.” #Blacklivesmatter isn’t just a hashtag, especially for the fifteen year old black boy in this comic now wanting to make a difference, be active in revolution through interest in protests and the New Black Panther Party. This boy’s name is every name in the footnotes that stands out upon the white background, ironically, this way their names are actually visible. You can’t ignore them now.
More and more the reality of the situation is that the the prison-industrial complex is all encompassing as evidenced more by the man who was held and tortured in Guantanamo Bay and now suffers from extreme PTSD. He is disconnected to his family and himself, finding only some solace in a dominatrix in order to feel, well, anything. The numbness permeates past the page through the green-olive mud and bright violet contrast of the pages. Words fail me to describe the panels of sheer emotion in the glances between him and his wife, Atifeh, the distance is palpable. It’s something that a reader needs to experience.
Britney Spears shaved her head in 2007 during a mental breakdown. This “incident” was used as a gag to ridicule her, but now it’s become a symbol of hope to a meme driven internet presence. If Britney can survive 2007, you can do anything. That motivational quip might help the professor and Nylon, but it’s absolutely useless to those who fear going outside in legitimate fear of being murdered for simply existing.
I revel in the material of Material. Read every page with a critical eye and you especially don’t want to miss the amazing essays in the back. Examine every detail. Evaluate the material. Look up what you don’t know, learn, and share the richness of this book.