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Blast vol. 1: Dead Weight by Manu Larcenet

First published in France in 2010; published in translation by Europe Comics on Oct. 7, 2015

The central character in Blast, Polza Mancini, is a morbidly obese writer who resembles a snowman with a carrot nose. Most of the characters have noses that could pass for vegetables, or fingers, or bird beaks. The art seems to send the message that people are grotesque. Mancini is more grotesque than most. But Blast also makes the point that “the legitimacy of disgust as a reaction to deformity is a universal principle,” a natural law that causes abnormality to be a defining characteristic rather than one part of a complex individual. And how can someone like Mancini not hate himself when it is so natural for others to hate him?

The graphic novel Blast is Mancini’s story, as told to the police during an interrogation. But Mancini tells his story in own way, slowly relating the entire story of his life as the police impatiently wait for him to confess his crime. The key event, as Mancini tells it, is his exposure to the blast. He felt the blast at a low point in his life. In fact, the story of his life until that point is in black and white (mostly black, representing a dark life), but with his description of the blast, color appears. It is a transcendent, transformative experience. Then it ends, and the world is dark again. Dark and spooky, with massive blotches of black and trembling shapes in gray.

Mancini has a history of entering and leaving psychiatric hospitals, but in a story like this, the reader is asked to decide whether his perspective of life is any less valid than any other. Mancini maintains that society has no problem with individual decisions to alter bodies, sometimes painfully, with surgery and tattoos and piercings, but when people decide to change spiritually “through delicious intoxication,” they are seen as contemptible and unbalanced. A police officer say that Mancini is giving himself “poetic excuses” for being an irresponsible and destructive drunk.

Mancini has (he tells the cops) experienced life, lived without boundaries. He abandoned his wife and his job as a food editor to live the life of a bum, not necessarily choosing to be a bum, but choosing solitude.

Yet solitude is not so easy to find. In the woods, he encounters a group who live apart from society, a self-proclaimed Republic that wants him to join their community. That isn’t the life for Mancini. Yet it is in the woods, joined by a member of the Republic who appears whenever Mancini opens a bottle, that Mancini experiences a second, colorful blast. He perceives all; his awareness is complete. “I heard the inaudible, saw the invisible. There was nothing left to hold me down.” And so he begins to float.

At one point, Mancini muses that silence, like solitude, is a poetic invention. Living in nature is both terrifying and comforting. “There’s a mystery in nature … something you can’t force. It’s revealed only if you know how to wait, perfectly still, and it cannot be shared.” A good many panels are silent, in the sense that they are wordless, but they carry the story along as Mancini travels, observing the world in all its detail — the stray dog lifting its leg, the crumbling wall, the beetles on the forest floor.

When the police provide more facts about Mancini’s past, the reader is challenged to decide whether the police are correct in their view of Mancini, or whether there is any truth in Mancini’s perspective. Has he adopted a self-serving philosophy to avoid remorse or has he discovered a way to live with himself, a philosophy that might benefit others? Blast leaves it to the reader to decide, but since this is the first of four lengthy volumes, there is much more to this original and inventive graphic story. Fans of graphic storytelling, of philosophy, and of the macabre will all find something to admire in Blast.


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