The Middle Ground #133 | Built on shifting sands
The first time I read Ales Kot and Morgan Jeske’s Change, I was distracted by all the things I didn’t like about it: the similarities to the stories that influenced it, the use of language at certain places, a knowing tone that seemed smug. I’d read, and disliked far more than I’d expected, Kot’s earlier Wild Children, and that had made me suspicious of Change even before I got to the first page, I think.
And then I re-read it.
I’m not quite sure why I re-read it, to be honest; it’s not as if I didn’t have anything else to read, or that I was convinced there was this germ of greatness I’d detected the first time around. It was, I think, this nagging feeling that I wasn’t being fair. There are times when I read things and my experience is colored by whatever mood I was in at the time, or whatever preconceptions I have about a particular creator; I react to my idea of what I’m reading, instead of what I’m actually reading, if that makes sense. After finishing Change for the first time, I found myself feeling guilty about my reaction … and so I went back for a second go-through. And then a third. And then a fourth.
Change is frustrating and ambitious and off-putting and pretentious and and and … complicated. Change is complicated, and it’s something that, once I got over that initial “I don’t get this and I don’t like it” response, compelled me to go back again and again. If that sounds like a halfhearted endorsement, there’s maybe something to that; I’m not sure it’s a book I necessarily enjoyed or liked, but it was something I really engaged in and struggled with, and that is something worth applauding, I think.
There are certainly things that, on multiple re-reads, still niggle as much as they did the first time around, but I’m unsure whether that’s the fault of the material or the reader on the revisits. (Am I just a generation removed from the core audience, and that’s why I’m completely unconvinced by any of the characters, and think them archly constructed media stereotypes?). The subtleties of the work are more obvious the more times I re-read: the nervous ticks of the central characters and how they parallel each other, the book’s hand fetish, the claustrophobia of LA contrasted with the different-but-equal claustrophobia of space. The writing still seems to be straining to hard at times, but then there’s the also the wonderful last lines of the issue, which work in a way that nothing else in the issue does and gives hope for what comes next.
Change is a challenging book, and one that’s not entirely successful, but – that ambition, dammit. That ambition is, I think, what ultimately brought me back for that second read and kept me returning after that. Kot and Jeske are definitely trying to say something beyond the Trademark Upkeep Status Quo, and even if I’m unsure what that is from this first issue — or even if it’s something that I’ll necessarily appreciate when I get there — the very fact that Change is trying to say anything at all guarantees that I’ll be paying attention all the way through.