The story is practically mythological: the artist strikes a deal with the devil in exchange for greatness. This myth has a sibling: the artist who, by necessity, must suffer and cause suffering in order to create. A metaphysical toll that must be paid to the universe: a portion of one’s humanity for passage into genius. It would seem difficult to tell an old story in a way that is fresh. Of course, Ram V (These Savage Shores, The Many Deaths of Laila Starr, Swamp Thing and others) is not your typical creator. In the world of comics he is establishing himself as a storyteller who must be read. And Blue In Green must be read.
Blue In Green touches on more than one theme. Yes, it is about the price that greatness demands, but it is also about family, music, trauma, and our fear of being alone and forgotten. Like many great works it defies genre. It flits with ease between horror, crime, drama and fantasy. And perhaps the most ambitious part of the book is the way it tries to create music out of words and images. It is, all at once, beautiful, horrific and haunting.
Erik Dieter is a once promising jazz musician who fell short of greatness. Erik believes he lacks that ineffable thing that can turn hard work into genius. He is haunted by both his past and his mediocrity (the latter being inexorably linked to the former within the context of his story). He teaches at a music school. He is lonely–disconnected from both himself and his family. He receives a call from his sister that his mother has died and he returns home. We learn that his sister has been caring for their mother for years and that Erik has never visited her during this time. Abstract and surreal flashbacks show that Erik’s memories of his mother are confusing faded and traumatic. Eric is haunted by a sense of meaninglessness.
The collaboration between writer and artist (Ram V and Anand RK) is exquisite. The light sneaking through the blinds is soft and contemplative. It exists in servitude to the shadow which reflects the darkness of Erik’s thoughts. The next three panels show sequential art at its best as we witness Erik’s mother changing from corpse to dust. In the last panel we see Erik’s face, haunted and frozen as he contemplates that he is–even while still alive–“a quantity of nothingness”. Words begin to drift outside of of their boxes (Aditya Bidikar is the letterer) and the handwriting gets messier. A sense of unease pervades. Something is beginning to fall apart.
That night Erik enters his mother’s study where a demon-like creature stands over a desk with scattered photos at his feet. He confronts Erik with just the right words to unsettle an artist whose worst fear is of being washed up and forgotten: “Do you play? Do you suffer for it?”
The cool detachment of Erik’s life is reflected in the blue and grey coloring (John Pearson is our colorist). The aggression and horror of the red threatens to overtake Erik. The slanted lettering adds to the malevolence.
Erik awakes the next morning wondering if it was all a dream. He encounters a photograph of a musician on his mother’s desk. He feels a connection to the photo, a pull to find out who the person is and how that person fit into his mother’s life. And so he embarks on an adventure through the old clubs that comprised New York’s jazz scene. Erik’s horrifying adventure will reveal something about his identity, his family and about how far he is willing to go for greatness.
Anand RK (artist) and John Pearson (colorist) deliver art that is gorgeous while also being unsteady, uncomfortable and chaotic. They are the horn players in this modern jazz piece.
Ram V’s writing is the steady rhythm section, keeping you anchored as the art (and Erik’s world) descend into horror and madness. He does a masterful job of creating a ghostly and disconnected man who is compelled–for better and worse–to search for greatness and meaning in the darkness.
Ram V is a creator in the world of comics and graphic novels who has been accruing both praise and awards in the past few years. Acclaim can as quickly forgotten as it can be created, but I am confident that Ram V’s voice will, like Alan Moore’s and Neil Gaiman’s before him, be remembered for decades to come. He brings to his creations humanity, intelligence, soulfulness and, let’s get down-to-earth: he’s a hell of a story teller who is unafraid to take the risks necessary to create impactful and original art.
Anand RK is a revelation to me. I can’t pick up Blue In Green without staring at the art (even when I’m not “reading” the book). I can only hope that I see his name continue to show up in the comics universe so that I can continue to gaze at his work.
I give Blue In Green lots of stars: like ten or eleven. Out of how many? Who cares? Pick it up and let me know what you think.