I dream of that graffiti I saw. In the dream it glowed right thru a wall.
Because we learn to speak before we learn to write, there’s an idea that writing is secondary—a scratched imitation of what we really want to say, unable to capture the nuance and complexity of speech. If this were so, pens and paper would be useless, text would be emotionally without depth. On the pages of Jaakko Pallasvuo’s Easy Rider, speech isn’t constrained by text; words burn through the paper to touch us.
Easy Rider, was co-published by Landfill Editions and MUZEUM, and shown recently at the exhibition Ministry of Internal Affairs. Intimacy as Text, curated by Natalia Sielewicz at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Pallasvuo is best known for his artistic explorations of software and digital film, but he sees this project as a bridge to illustration, as each of the 160 pages was drawn consecutively by hand on an iPad. He did this all without a clear plot in mind—“I wanted to see where the story would take me if I wasn’t fully aware of it…”—but thematically the entire project, “was driven by the the political shit show of 2016, and my resulting fantasies of ‘leaving society.’”
Easy Rider opens at some indeterminate point in the near future, with an unnamed man—a failed doctor, unemployed, queer—trying to escape a bout of depression in a dystopian cityscape, run by the ‘cartoonishly evil,’ porcine Commander Swine. Battling an identity crisis, he grows his beard out, wanders aimlessly, and is nagged by his own mediocrity, “I’m always like this same dissatisfied depressed white boy hipster,” he worries. “All mass indie comics are about the same person.” I wonder if these are projections of Pallasvuo’s own experience?
I always end up drawing and writing depressed, whiny, self-absorbed men, which is probably true to me. I’m trying to draw myself out of this, but the best I’ve been able to do so far is to give the characters some self-awareness about it.
The worries and concerns of the protagonist seem to be directed equally at himself, the reader, and the author. It’s the unreliable narration of a paranoid or anxious mind that frequently shifts tone into a familiar conversational typing style; “ya same,” “C U LATER.” These thoughts and phrases seem to structure the world itself; scrawled writing hangs around images and appears as graffiti scrawled on walls, other times the brushstrokes are so broad and translucent that the letters seem in danger of dripping onto your hands. This loose drawing style, that changes from page to page, evokes the flowing pace of the story and the shifts from fear to tenderness.
Our protagonist’s dull life is suddenly broken by a seemingly chance encounter, caught between a graffiti-spraying magician and a persistent but reluctant cop. In helping the magician escape, he learns the truth of the world and his importance to freeing the city from the rule of Commander Swine. There’s a sense of restless energy as the characters move at speed, escaping police drones, sometimes running, sometimes on superbikes; shifting from houses to hideaways, to basement occult rituals, into caves and through portals.
Following this moment of reinvigoration there’s a set of transformations; the cop becomes implicated in their escape and joins them in evading the police, and as they do so there’s a growing sense that this might well be a love story.
The final pages end with a direct call for a collective and holistic approach to dismantling the police state, forming rhizomatic connections so that, “the new collective world will have no need for lone protagonists like me”. Returning to our own world, I ask Pallasvuo of his hopes and fears for the future, and whether we’ll ever seen these transformations play out. But he expresses deep pessimism.
It’s a very confusing time, and in some ways it feels like simply being human has become a fraught, contradictory and outmoded position. This is frightening because I can’t really see a good way out. Looking for solutions turns into thinking about the supernatural.
An element of this supernatural turn is expressed in the inclusion of a tarot card, drawn by Pallasvuo, in each of the first hundred copies of Easy Rider. Tarot reading is enjoying a popularity it hasn’t seen for a century; a sign that people are using stories and fictions to attempt to understand the incomprehensible nature of a world that increasingly challenges mainstream assumptions—a world of ever more technocratic authoritarian governments, an awareness of the accelerating and potentially unstoppable environmental destruction, and despite this, a growing acceptance of the fluidity of gender identities.
It doesn’t seem like escapism to turn to cards and to the stars, or to comics, for answers—people have long mapped their lives to fictions, perhaps because through metaphor and play, stories can speak to us in a more personal and intimate manner than unmediated facts and demands. Easy Rider shows that the first steps towards progressive transformation can begin in the most unexpected moments.