What is the point of existence

Experimental narration : How a comic without pictures sums up life

For the first few years he was only called "The Baby". Another child under twelve siblings, the father doesn't bother to give a name. When the baby turns seven, they baptize it after all. Like all men in the family, the boy is supposed to work in the coal mine. If he is buried and dies, little Roland, as he will be called from now on, will at least not go to hell as a baptized person.

This is how “The Long Unlearned Life of Roland Gether” begins, one of the most unusual comics in history, which was awarded a special jury prize 20 years ago at the Erlangen International Comic Salon, was then long out of print and is now being reissued by Berlin-based Avant Verlag has been (50 pp., 20 €).

Humiliations, disappointments and wasted opportunities

What makes this comic so special is not so much the content of the story set in Great Britain, especially between 1860 and 1947, than its form: all characters are small dots, they only differ from one another by their position on the paper and occasionally by their size.

Whoever is speaking can be recognized by a line assigned to the point. And every now and then onomatopoeic words complete the narrative: “Zack” for every blow Roland receives from the teacher at school, “Hack” and “Kapong” for the slaughter in which he was a soldier in the Zulu War in 1879 and later in World War I. is forced to "Ka-Boom" for the German bomb that takes his wife from him in World War II.

There is not much more to see here. The crazy thing is: the story works despite and occasionally because of this complete reduction. This is mainly due to the dialogues, which are in some places weird like Monty Python scenes and in others convey pain and grief like the social dramas by Charles Dickens.

The life of Roland Gethers, as the Canadian screenwriter and comic book artist Shane Simmons unfolds in 3840 panels, is a series of humiliations, disappointments and wasted opportunities. Every time Roland, who is actually cheerful, makes an attempt to develop further than is indicated by his class and the ignorance of his surroundings, it ends in disaster.

The reduced imagery goes well with the extremely limited worldview of most of the characters. Seldom has the tragedy of human existence been brought to the, well, point so vividly.

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