Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. Intrigued to find something new? Seeking validation for your secret passions? Required Reading gets you.
By Arpad Okay. Koma is a heady mix, a strange parable that turns out to be much more complex than a single read can reveal. It is a fairy tale told by an anarchist, a labor story set in an industrial age. There is no castle, only the town, and that town is a city crowded with stone walls and poverty. Koma is the legend of the chimney sweep’s daughter, Addidas, who finds monsters and magical machinery beneath the city, inside it and inside herself. Her journey is a Phantom Tollbooth exploration of health and body (instead of intellect), down to the serious, playful, Early Reader-style illustrations. And, like Milo in the Tollbooth, Addidas is a little girl who steps up to deal with adult situations. She’s Gretel saving her brother from the witch, not a fairy tale princess.
Addidas is fearless. She has the frank honesty and optimism of a child. But she is also often profoundly in touch with the real and the now. Her and her father’s world is as full of fascists and bureaucrats as ours is, a dark dream of our history, fantastic in its depiction of the cityscape (with just a touch of steampunk) but realistic in its inclusion of anxiety and disparate responsibility and injustice. Despite the state of things, Addidas sees with clarity. She can find an alternate way, a path of peace through the chaos, found under the metropolis.
This is a journey, and the landscape is dreams. The chimney sweep strips the urban jungle to its conduits and it becomes veins in caverns of muscle and flesh. Koma is a microscope, magnifying the person in the industry, the machinery inside the person, the spirit inside the machinery. It is Social Science Fiction, the health of society as related to the health of the individual. The people who maintain the structure of society (the builders, the custodians, the chimney sweeps) are often treated like they don’t belong to the world they enable. If they were offered the same protection by society that they give it by the nature of their vocation, there wouldn’t be anything to read about. Koma wouldn’t have happened because Addidas would have seen a doctor instead of passing through the looking glass (and bringing a friend back with her).
The story intensifies as it progresses. The whole of Koma is seeded with good questions and layers of rich metaphor. It has an incendiary spirit fit for the pages of WW3 Magazine. And it is all rendered with a moody, romantic style. Frederik Peeters makes an excellent Jules Feiffer to go along with Pierre Wazem’s Norton Juster. There is a constant sunshine that makes the increasing despair a powerful surprise, like Kerascoët. The art makes room for both the absurd and the horrific, comedy and tragedy. Both are in store for the reader. Things get proper fairy tale grim.
And yet Koma is different. Koma transcends social commentary and fairy tale conventions. The subtle knife pierces the veil and Addidas’ travels cross back and forth between worlds inside and out until the distinction dissolves into a surreal series of powerful emotions. The difference between shuffling a deck of cards being chaos or harmony is mostly a matter of perspective. Koma is both, a story that raises many more questions than it answers, complex, and one that feels right, simple and true. Like ascension. Like enlightenment. Addidas struggles with finding the light so that we can recognize the tragic, so that we can combat the evils of this world, so that we might live long enough to experience a little Happily Ever After ourselves.
Written by Pierre Wazem.
Illustrated by Frederik Peeters.
Colored by Albertine Ralenti.
Translated by Samantha Demers.
US Edition edited by Alex Donoghue and Tim Pilcher.