Monday, 1 June 2015

Blue by Pat Grant Review

Pat Grant’s Blue sees an Aussie man reminiscing on his adolescence – before THEY came. The aliens (a stand-in for immigrants) who took over the white population and brought their own culture with them – how this Aussie oik hates multi-culturalism and racial diversity! He also recounts the time he and his two friends “wagged” (skipped) school to go look at some poor bastard that got run over by a train. So it’s basically Stephen King’s The Body with a smattering of District 9.

That’s not to say it’s a derivative comic because Grant tells his story in an artful way. Blue’s narration is a thoughtful means of discussing the immigration and race problems prevalent in Australian society and the economic decline of Australian industry. And while our narrator is a right-wing bigot, Grant never makes him seem less human for his beliefs and doesn’t get polemical about how we should see him.

Except it’s not a very deep examination of these complex issues. Grant presents us with these kids who’re wary of immigrants and anyone different, we see the racism prevalent in white society, noting the contradictions that the whites were once immigrants to Oz, but what are we to make of it? Grant is really only pointing them out and, with his high level of subtlety, not leaving much of an impression on the reader. Xenophobia and racism are bad – agreed. And? The treatment feels very shallow and superficial.

The story is meandering, like a lot of slice-of-life stories, and isn’t very compelling. Three kids skipping school to walk the train tracks and eventually stare at a dead body isn’t that great a story even if that’s not the point of the book, and it’s doubly uninteresting for anyone who’s read King’s The Body or seen Stand By Me.

The art style is very attractive – it’s neat, imaginative and cartoony but realistic and expressive when it needs to be. It’s very skilful and detailed and I enjoyed the use of only a few colours to give it its own look. The alien zaniness mixed in with the everyday reminded me of Kim Deitch’s work with moments of Jim Woodring’s kerazy style. The background presence of waves feels like an homage to Hokusai’s celebrated 19th century woodcuts which I especially enjoyed being a fan of Hokusai.

Though Grant’s able to weave in many layers to Blue, the effect is not very powerful. It portrays a declining side to Australian life well and maybe that’s the point, but that doesn’t make for a particularly interesting read. Blue is oftentimes quite boring and repetitive and I doubt it’ll stay with me.


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