Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened once a month to champion a book that we adore and you should read. The latest: Raven Lyn Clemens’s The Paradox of Getting Better, available now from Silver Sprocket.
by Arpad Okay. Contradictions aren’t a problem for The Paradox of Getting Better. From the title, the reader is prepared to reconcile the incompatible. Maybe recognize that opposites don’t cancel each other out. Don’t mistake that for a positive; Raven Lyn Clemens isn’t sermonizing with their graphic novel about the fallacy of sunk costs or how believing in a zero-sum universe holds you back. A screaming triangle beast, a recent graduate of moon school for all the good it’s done, emerges from the sea to drop by the house and drive mom to tears. Again. It couldn’t have happened that way, and yet it is impossibly true.
Clemens’ is a compelling and furious work of self-examination and raw confession. Paradox is a memoir, masked. The intimacy and intensity of a diary comic expressed as a total cartoon fantasy. Yet the telling of untrue tales allows Clemens to show you what they’ve really gone through. Frustration builds to the point where everyone, reader and the read, can see that things have gotten out of control, gone beyond the point of no return, and the anticipation of the coming collapse is just that much worse. Powerful and empathetic storytelling that cuts to the bone… like a giant Acme brand clever in the hands of WIle E. Coyote. Somebody is getting hurt.
Paradox is set in a reality where chronic mental health issues are treated at moon school, where a satellite separate from the regrettable and occasionally deeply touching things happening back on Earth orbits and observes, where a monstrous crab out for payback gores one of the kids in the group that you’re responsible for. You’re supposed to be watching them! Instead, death! Tears! There’s blood everywhere. Gut-twisting anxiety that is making everyone shake and cry. The stories reach a rolling boil that overflows the pot and scorches the stove, burns the hand that tries to keep the house from burning down.
You feel this. The hurt and confusion and inability to stop making things worse does not make our moon school alumnus a villain. Just another fuck up, you know? And ultimately the atmosphere of suffocating disquiet is conquered by heart. Empathy pushes the pencil that drew The Paradox of Getting Better. Much like life, Paradox will throw you into circumstances that break you down, ones without victory, but then life will come through with a moment of grace. Some little nothing that means everything. Access to a fragment of comfort that is brief but not fleeting, confirmation that no one is beyond the reach of peace. Life will save you as well as break you.
The layers of fiction and the surreal fantastic are interwoven with personal experiences of despair and destructive behavior to touch the reader. Incredibly sad becomes emotionally approachable. There’s no such thing as moon school. No real-life shadowy behemoth standing chest deep in surf, watching you from the waves. But whatever they represent- message received, loud and clear. Yet the indirect approach leaves space for complexity, where people can do wrong without being damned.
The artwork is every bit as raw as the subject matter. Paradox is in pencil, and good; you can’t ink this energy. There’s no choosing the right line, the work requires all of it. Need the sketch power. Presence and freedom. It’s not chaos—not yet—but the pencil monochrome allows a gentle visual density to accompany emotional impact. More pencil work clutters the very air of the panel. White noise fills the background like pouring concrete, enveloping everything, and then the weight. But pressing down hard on the pencil when the emotions are hitting would betray the tranquility of the observer. So the bags under the eyes, or the haze that blinds one’s vision, it comes from more lines not heavier, more more, gathering around unease like filings drawn to a magnet.
Everyone at moon school and mom’s house looks like some late 80s Atari game sprite. Clemens has a Ron Regé Jr. or Don Hertzfeldt knack for crafting abstract little cartoony cuties that you immediately have to take seriously, and end up going on a serious emotional journey with. Anyone who has ever had a piece of their life slip through their fingers will find in this book from time to time a mirror. Unannounced, you will see yourself, and not in a place you wish to be.
That said, it can be a Velvet Underground kind of mirror, too. “When you think the night has seen your mind, that inside you’re twisted and unkind, let me stand to show that you are blind,” that kind of mirror (Lou gets it). I can’t sum up where The Paradox of Getting Better left me in a single feeling. A vision of intense darkness and seeing myself in there! The comforting glow of the planet’s blue and green against the void. The feeling isn’t hope, but accord with the hard nature of the world. Maybe it’s the peace in knowing one can endure these things. Overwhelmingly I felt devastated. The stories are challenging and sad, fearsome moments that stayed with me beyond the read, ones that unfurl and blossom when you start to think about them. Feed this book your time and it will end up eating you.
It’s a challenging read, but the kind of incitement that promotes the growth of the soul. It’s a SIlver Sprocket book, so it looks more like a punk zine than anything you’d find in a doctor’s office (despite the subject matter), and it’s a Silver Sprocket book, so it has a meaning and maturity that hides in the spare places that would in other hands be worked over to a fine polish and impermeable finish. The Paradox of Getting Better is so personal, but to steal a thought from Jon Rowson, personal experience is universal in a way nothing else can be.
Silver Sprocket / $12.99
Written and Illustrated by Raven Lyn Clemens.
The Paradox of Getting Better is available now. For purchasing information, click this.
Check out this 3-page preview of The Paradox of Getting Better, courtesy of Silver Sprocket:
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