The central premise of this comic is that art is an independent world, and within each piece of artwork exists a separate universe, simultaneously discreet from and interrelated with our ‘mundane’ reality.
So, while a painting exists, both a discrete and eternal snapshot of the perceptions of the artist when it was made, and an initiator of impacts on those who view and understand it. Those with deeper understanding appear to be more deeply affected by the changed in the art.
The authorities in ‘our’ world do not understand all of this, but they are aware that there is a strong relationship between art and aberrant behavior. So, the police created a special unit to deal with ‘Art Crimes.’ This brings us to our main characters. Margot is a detective, a senior officer within the Bureau of Artistic Integrity (BAI – think of MIB with Art instead of Aliens). Another character is Arthur Brut, brilliant, insane and retired art detective. The last main character is Manny, Arthur’s mannequin – a small, silent wooden prop in the mundane world, but within the Sublime, the detective’s sentient, communicative (if somewhat dry-witted) sidekick.
In a parallel storyline within these issues, readers are introduced to Dylan, who sees different things in artwork than everyone else see. Perhaps he sees more – the creative team teases readers with hints (some subtle and others obvious) of the depths of his perception. Are his perception and comprehension damaged, different, or simply deeper? Is it that he sees more, or does Dylan—like Arthur—see truly, while the rest of humanity wanders about wearing blinders?
Margot, having experienced the Sublime, begins to notice that the real world is beginning to appear dull and artificial, while the Sublime appears to be reality. The recurring symbols – are they imagery or language?
This is a fascinating comic on so many levels. The plot is dense, with levels of meaning deliberately left open. There are clues for readers, and while some of them are obvious, others are obscure in terms of art history and semiotic theory.
Prince’s writing is dense and well-considered. He expects his readers to participate actively in the process of creating meaning by making observations, filling in the blanks and THINKING. This is dangerous territory to stake out. In an age where many readers want everything explained to them, Prince has created a mystery that functions simultaneously on multiple levels.
The artwork is outstanding. Morazzo combines a European Hetal Hurlant feel with a realistic characters and settings.
Lopes, the colorist makes a definite contribution. His choices of more ‘washed out’ hues for many of the scenes lends a feeling of unreality to the ‘real’ world, and increases the vibrancy of the Sublime and those scenes that are part in and part out of that other reality. One is reminded of the choice to film the opening of the classic Wizard of Oz in black and white, and to begin the color footage only when Dorothy arrives in Oz. Lopes made a daring choice, and it paid off well.
If Salvatore Dali and Jacques Derrida were to write a mystery, it would be The Electric Sublime.
Written by: W. Maxwell Prince
Illustrated by: Martin Morazzo