October 28, 2020

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There Is Music Even in Torment - A Look at Blue in Green

 

Blue in Green is the latest offering from the core creative team that brought us Grafity's Wall - Ram V, Anand RK, and Aditya Bidikar. Set with the New York jazz scene as a backdrop, Blue in Green is an exploration of specific type of loss, namely the loss of the unknown and the mysteries of the past. 


Blue in Green begins as Erik Dieter, a music teacher and occasional journalist, learns of his mother’s death. The rest of the book is fundamentally about how he reconciles the memories of his mother, his relationship with her, and his talent as a musician. At the core of the book is a study on the nature of influence and talent. Ram asks readers to consider how we view talent - is it a gift or a burden. Ram thus plays with the ideas behind talent and ambition, the drive to success compared to the pursuit of happiness, and the inherent mutual exclusivity between them. For Erik Dieter, life appears to be a burden, yet he seems to have carved his niche appropriately. His world shatters when his mother dies, not necessarily because of grief - Erik is full on Merseault in his stoicism - but because of the connections and memories the death dredges up. Ram deliberately doesn’t provide a ton of backstory, but it’s easy for the reader to grasp that Erik has not questioned his reality in quite some time, likely because he knows those questions will lead to a particular place of depression and guilt. Every time he encounters a person from his past, they inevitably remark on his talent, often indicating that if he had just nurtured it a little, he’d have become what people thought he could be. Erik seems to shrug off these comments, and he continues to appear aloof towards his family members and friends following his mother’s passing. All of that changes after Erik finds a photograph among his mother’s belongings. It intrigues him because he doesn’t recognize the subject of the photo, another saxophonist whose presence compels him to investigate.

One of Annand's tamer pages from the beginning of the book. It's worth a re-read to examine how his style deliberately disintegrates over the course of the narrative.

What follows is a spiral, a dark descent into the past, that puts Erik on a course of both self-discovery and familiar history.

Ram continually returns to music as a metaphor for existence. He drills down into the creative process to excavate a real response to talent. It’s important to recognize his choice to use not only a musician, but a jazz saxophonist, to mine this information. In music, but especially in jazz, there is a sense that the performer gives himself to the music and thereby the audience. Consider the saxophone as an instrument; it literally requires the breath of the performer to live. With each note, the saxophonist gives a piece of life to the music in ways that other art does not. 

And that idea becomes the center point for Blue in Green. Erik’s art requires him to give something of himself. It seems there is a reason he has been unable to make the necessary sacrifice, the cascading levels of trade off for a career as a musician. Therein lies the horror of Blue in Green - the horror is creation, or more specifically the sacrifice required of the creative process. It's cliche to talk about the fine line between genius and insanity, but that's not exactly what Ram gets after. It's more of the inherent insanity of ambition, of what it takes to create, and what is lost as a result.

I remember discussing the art in Grafity’s Wall with fellow Patterers Scott and Sean. My take on Anand’s art was that it wasn’t quite tight enough, but both Scott and Sean felt it fit the narrative incredibly well. Specifically, Scott explained that the wild nature of the art connected perfectly with the tumbling narrative. I couldn’t disagree, even if I wanted to see Anand take his art up a notch.

He obliterated all the notches with Blue in Green.


Not to be hyperbolic, but Anand RK’s art for Blue in Green is a true revelation. From scenes that look like oil paintings, to deconstructed figures that seem to out-Sienkiewicz Sienkiewicz, to raw panels that look like draft sketches, RK’s art embraces the wild nature of Grafity’s Wall and amps up the confusion and dream-like pattern of Ram’s script. John Pearson’s colors work hand in hand with RK’s ambition. He knows when to lay it on thick to connote a sense of oil painting portraiture and when to pull back to let the lines shine through. Their use of light and dark is truly impressive, and the style creates a feeling of movement to the whole book. There is an animated feel to it, and I mean that not to say it feels cartoony, but that it feels immersive. At points, I found myself feeling as if I were descending staircases or stumbling the sidewalks. The juxtapositions keep the reader constantly on their toes without necessarily throwing us off-balance. The moment we think we’re in the heart of it, it seems like an unfinished panel jumps off the page. Often, I thought of M.C. Escher and the "Take On Me" video. Some parts of the book felt rough, others felt gooey with their layers. All of it, though, feels precise. So much of the book is about chasing memories, and the art captures that feeling perfectly. Some memories feel fully formed, others are mere sketches. Some might not look real at all, blurry and faded at the edges. 


Approximately a quarter of the book's pages look like they could be cover images - that is the level of detail RK and Pearson bring to each panel. Some of the more layered pages have a Dave McKean vibe to them, embodying a mixed-media collage approach. Aditya Bidikar elevates the entire process with his lettering, leaning into the rough format of the book with equally coarse lettering that gets more rustic as Erik's descent progresses. His speech bubbles often look like cut outs pasted onto the page adding to the collage feel of RK's varying style. His lettering, both in the style and placement, adds to the way the book stirs, that kind of active feel of movement I described above.

Ram holds a lot back, forcing us to make some of the connections and inferences that hold the book together. Like jazz enthusiasts, we have to listen to the notes between the notes.I very much enjoyed the pacing of Blue in Green. It felt like it mimicked jazz - sojourning interludes interspersed with staccato bursts of life and violence, tumbling beats of hard bop banging in the ear of the reader only to retreat back to the melodic progression. Events in Blue in Green happen suddenly but feel inevitable in retrospect. The book itself seems to build and build to its ultimate burst, the overwhelming majority of the book being the rising action, a wild jazz song that bounces and amps until it explodes at the end, nothing left of its breath, nothing more to give, everything laid out in entirety. The reader is left wanting ever so slightly, and there is an urge to move the needle back to the beginning of the track, to flip to the cover of the book to start again to see how it all happened.

Blue in Green
Writing - Ram V
Line Art - Anand RK
Color Art - John Pearson
Production Design - Tom Muller
Published by Image Comics