Sometimes the relentless grind of stupidity and negativity and sheer stubborn regression makes me give up on comics for a bit. I look around on the internet, I see people being assholes and everyone complaining about how bad comics are these days and I feel like I’m stuck in an infinite loop of surreality, where huge creative strides in the medium are cast aside and all we want to do is talk shit about one another because that’s more exciting. It’s just hard to get worked up about things that don’t fucking matter when real things happen, like an ex-girlfriend dying a horrible death on a poorly constructed highway. And as much as I try to focus on the work that blows me away, eventually the energy it takes to hone in on the good shit is sucked dry by the energy it takes to ignore the suffocating bleakness of the medium you call home. Maybe this is why something like the second part of Pete Toms’ On Hiatus clicks with me enough to motivate me to jump back in to the cesspool.
I wrote about the first part of On Hiatus a while back and specifically the notion Toms’ put forth in it, that we as a culture are perennially stuck at a mental age of 15. Toms gets at that concept through Harry Malloy, an actor in the midst of an existential crisis, who’s not so much sympathetic as he is willing to say things without a filter and by virtue of that, we as readers can relate. Not because we say these things in real life, as Malloy does albeit mostly in closed door conversations, but because it’s the type of speaking we do online, through personas that are sometimes completely fabricated and sometimes an extreme take on our existing personas. Facebook is an extent of many of our lives now, but how many of us are the same person on Facebook as we are face-to-face? And beyond that, how many of us create new identities on a semi-regular basis, spread out across the sites we frequent, the groups we troll, the tweets we hope will get maximum visibility? Those online versions of ourselves leak into our real world identities, giving us, as Toms puts it, “blog accents,” causing us to “speak like we’re tweeting.”
On Hiatus part one ended in a Cronenbergian dream state, as Malloy faded into unconsciousness wondering “what people’s dreams were like before tv,” but that’s a con if the second part is any indication. Kicking off with what appear to be dream characters explaining their own dreams before melting into a semi-religious, apocalyptic dream scenario, it’s nonetheless full of all these meta shells thinking out loud about internet interactions, dwelling on the way we’re no longer defined by things like work or domesticity but by the comments below our blogs, the war of constant attention and upvotes. The last update ends with “It’s all bullshit, you know,” and even though that’s nothing revolutionary, Toms absolute devotion to getting this point across in as weird and horrifying a visual manner as possible is pretty revolutionary. On Hiatus is intended to provoke as much through visual metaphors and startling symbols as its through incendiary dialogue or blasphemous claims and Toms is a master at a very subtle kind of provocation.
If you’re left feeling confused while reading On Hiatus, particularly its second part, that’s almost certainly by design. At the very least, it’s no accident that the haze that defined the first section of the comic’s first half has cleared up even though the “plot” itself has only become more hazy. The layers that are piling up in the work, as we travel through Malloy exploring all the different levels of dreams on dreams on dreams, mimic the click click click pass nature of our consumption, the way we look and consume without thinking about it, we share to get to something before someone else or just to see what kind of conversation it kicks off on our feeds and it all builds to a crescendo of chaotic incoherence, just a mess of images and numbers and thumbs ups. Toms handle on it is somehow comforting, like an acknowledgment that if you feel like you’re being driven insane by the cacophony, at least you’re not alone. I don’t know what to do about the mess anymore than I know how to deal with knowing yet another person I loved is gone forever in a way I don’t understand. But I know that On Hiatus provokes me and being able to feel that, to build off that energy of frustration and confusion and irritation, is worth something.
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Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with Dylan Garsee on twitter: @Nick_Hanover