Joe Ollmann’s graphic novels delineate the absurdities and agonies of modern life. His latest presents us with the slow-motion disintegration of a relationship.
Mark is a pragmatic high-school science teacher with an Eeyore-like temperament. His wife, Sue, the head cashier at a grocery, is the gutsier of the two. They live for the pleasures of “boring old domesticity”: Friday night roti, mediocre box wine, and movie rentals. Things take a turn after Mark’s choice of a cheesy sci-fi flick triggers a crying fit, and what he claims are flashbacks of an alien abduction. What follows is the unravelling of the couple’s shared life, as Mark retreats into a world of online believers and Sue becomes less and less able to lure him back.
Whether Mark actually was abducted by aliens is ultimately unimportant; Ollmann wisely chooses to focus on the effect that a breakdown in mutual understanding can have on a relationship.
Science Fiction shares the intimacy of live theatre: its simple staging puts the emphasis on moment-to-moment fluctuations in feeling. At times this approach comes across as a weakness, because the action rarely breaks out of a pattern of alternating close-ups on the two leads. Fortunately, the couple’s dynamic – the back-and-forth interaction between a cynic and a hopeful realist – saves the story. Not only does their dialogue feel authentic, so do their fights. Ollmann nicely dramatizes the brittle tempers and petulant sulking that can dog any couple.
An omniscient authorial voice often interjects, like an off-screen television announcer, forecasting doom. What seems superfluous at first actually heightens the tension, as knowing the outcome of the story means that Sue’s desperate attempts to salvage her relationship get sadder and sadder as the final page approaches.
Ollman’s art is, frankly, ugly, and yet that’s part of its charm: he’s not interested in superficial sheen, but rather the moments that reveal who we really are. There’s pleasure in these panels, and a sense of comfort. The messiness of the art renders the drama more tragic and somehow bearable.