guttergeek formerly discontinuous review of graphic narrative; now just discontinuous

One-Panel Criticism: An Apparition of Killoffer

by Jared Gardner


Six Hundred and Seventy-Six Apparitions of Killoffer tells the story of our narrator’s trip to Montreal, where his girl-watching and bar-hopping is troubled by memories of a sink full of dirty dishes left behind in his Paris apartment. After a short dream sequence imagining what will be waiting for him on his return, told in conventional, evenly spaced panels, and culminating in a vision of the organic effluvia attacking our narrator and transforming him into a many-headed beast, the comic turns to a “diary format” for the next eight pages. With the exception of the opening panel on the third page showing our narrator waking up from his guilty nightmare, there will be no more frames (save for a brief dream sequence toward the end of the narrative). All of this, of course, makes my “one-panel” exercise something of a cheat, but that is of course part of the fun:

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Of all the many gooey, narcissistic pleasures of Six Hundred and Seventy-Six Apparitions of Killoffer, perhaps the best can only be achieved when encountering this “panel” for the first time. Our narrator has just told us that he was not equipped for the voyage he is about to undergo; after all, he confesses, “I’m just a slacker.” Immediately below this frank admission we see the evidence for the claim sprawled out in his Montreal flat: Killoffer on the couch in his underwear, smoking and watching TV, a TV that shares a desk with what we understand to be Killoffer’s makeshift workspace, his neat (but notably blank) panels laid out on the bristol board as another Killoffer sits naked in front of a TV we know is on more often than not (later in the story we will see our narrator neglecting his still-blank panels for a porn video on that same TV). We see our narrator, in fact, in many stages of slackerdom: eating and drinking at the table, brewing coffee while food lays scattered about the kitchen counter, getting dressed in what we have reason to believe are the same clothes he wore the day before.

Generations of comics have trained us how to read these various manifestations of Killoffer. Surely these are all various examples of our narrator doing what he says he does best, slacking. The image, we have reason to believe, essentially provide examples to illustrate the textual assertion: the same Killoffer at different, unspecified points in time, in the same space. In the example below we know that the repeated figures circling the static environment are to be read as the same people in different (in this examples, sequential) moments of time:

gasoline-alley

But in Killoffer one page later and we have clear reason to question our reading of this “panel.” Suddenly the multiple appearances of our narrator are not so easily explained, or at least not all of them.  We see Killoffer chase after an attractive young woman in three moments that are clearly to be read sequentially–that is, one Killoffer pursuing one young woman. But we also see other Killoffers: one inebriated at the café table, another anxiously looking through his jacket (for a wallet?). Nor do the images neatly illustrate the text. As the next page concludes its text with the narrator still meditating on the “new science” he has discovered in his Paris sink, our expanding roster of Killoffers spread out across the city utterly unconcerned with science, hygiene, or our narrator—who will soon be silenced completely.

After a short time, the remaining “adventure” will play out in a chaotic silence as our “real” Killoffer (who we must studiously hunt for among the intertwining apparitions) increasingly finds himself overrun and abused by the Killoffers who have taken over his flat and his story. But this panel, our first with multiple Killoffers remains ambiguous: were these Killoffers we meet at the beginning of our tale themselves already apparitions? or, as we first apprehend them, are they, were they a visual device to illustrate the various poses in the daily life of an inveterate slacker.

That we cannot be certain of course is entirely to the point: these apparitions are not in the end the result of the science experiment that is his kitchen sink back in Paris. They are instead the ghosts of comics creation, and comics reading, the ability to see (or the inability
not to see) past, present and future overlapping in space, leaving traces, memories, apparitions that are always waiting for us when we open the door on familiar spaces.

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