I used to believe that there was a palace of indescribable size and grandeur — with free-flying buttresses and geometric minarets and monumental statuary and hundreds of thousands of fluttering flags — suspended in the air above my head, and that every day for the rest of my life this palace would grow bigger and closer, its topiaries and grotesques ever more intensely detailed, its gods and anti-gods breeding and evolving, its millions of visages and façades only growing clearer and more colorful until the moment I last closed my eyes.
When I was eleven, I found out…
Pick a God. Any God. Go on: pull one out of the drifting white lace. Or catch at everything cosmic that’s floated in through the cracks in the back of your mind, then assemble your own majestic lord-of-lords from theological arms and legs, eyes and eyes and eyes, celestial tentacles and the burnt ends of metaphysics and your very own pet eschatology. Seal your belief with the alchemy of a linguistic kiss, swear you’ll never die, and then worship every hand you shake, saying, “Hi, God!” …
The little star-faced man scrambled across the candy bowl, diving and rolling away from her descending fingers. She snagged him easily, pinching his nude chest with her turquoise nails and lifting him off the table. He thrashed and squealed and beat his fists on her nails. “Don’t worry,” she said. “He’s not actually sentient. These are just defense mechanisms.” And she dropped him into my glass of water, where he writhed, his star curling inward, his skull dissolving, his eyes going empty, his corpse streaming away into bubbles and tinting the water a cheerful shade of orange. She nudged the glass toward me, not so much smiling as revealing her teeth. “Now, about that contract…”
Shintaro Kago is not interested in characters. If you’re looking to be deeply moved, to be invested, then you’ll have to look elsewhere — he offers a rarer and more cerebral delight. Kago is a tickler of brains, an engineer of transgression, a mad abstractionist who uses each of his sixteen-page comics to explore a singular idea and force its eccentric logic to its limits.
Take for example Abstraction, in which the comic panels turn sideways and reveal their third dimension, a wrenching motion that corrupts their internal reality. …
Guess what? This mornin’, when I went to unlock the factory — yep, I see you noddin’. You know it: another two of those sluggish, good-for-nothin’, miserable sons-of-bitches had jimmied the door and escaped. Well screw me, right? It’s not like I have rights, right? But I did stay cool, I just reported them to the police, and then durin’ my brunch break I took myself down to the Employee Store.
And I’m tellin’ you, today they had the most fantastic specimen in the window, on one of those like, rotatin’ platforms? This curly-bearded, fist-nosed boy stackin’ plastic cups and…
I once saw your back retreating at the end of an alleyway. I ran after you, calling out, still not daring to believe that it was you at last — but you were already gone as I emerged onto the street that bears your name. Your face was in every window, I counted 365 in a circle, the panorama of windows like an endless smile full of your clear and shining teeth. Still I couldn’t find you, though a paper plane flew by dragging a banner on which was printed the unmistakable wrinkles tiered beneath your eyes, the rows…
Lester was a squat, spherical, and pasty line cook with the fleshy bald head and heavy-ringed ears of a genie. Back in his twenties, when he was known as Carnifex, he played drums and hog-screamed in a thrash-metal band — but in our kitchen he was a soft-spoken nonentity, doughy and lethargic even during the rush, responding to insults or demands with a small flavorless smile and nod, line-eyed, inscrutable as a Buddha, seeming somehow less tranquil than tranquilized.
One evening we were shutting down the kitchen together, cleaning in silence, when suddenly he began telling a story. He talked…
The six-foot-tall flatscreen remixes my appearance in fluid real-time. First I’m a gaptoothed kid sobbing puddles, then I’m a majestic old man with the upswept hair of a Romantic composer. Then I’m a woman blowing kisses, then I’m screaming silently, then my back is turned, then my eyes are fire and my sideburns pillars of salt. Then I’m a pop-eyed skeleton whose transparent skull discloses my brain. Then I’m begging for my life — pointing and laughing at myself — groaning with a head wound — staring up in awe at an intense white light. Then I’m dead, riddled with worms and larvae. Finally I am healthy, clear-eyed, well-adjusted, the man I’ve never been able to become, and my better self regards me with a mixture of horror and pity — with unbearable compassion.
For me, the question of evil — that is, its overwhelming presence everywhere at all times — has always destroyed any possibility of a caring God. Now, as I say this, the slyest Christians will smugly readjust their glasses and pipe up to defend evil, claiming that it is a consequence of human freedom, and freedom is necessary if our salvation is to have any meaning. But the problem is that such a view reduces all spacetime to a brutal sorting ground for souls, a sort of absurdly complicated Rube Goldberg machine to separate the wheat from the chaff…
With a squawk I was sucked from nothing,
caught and chucked into the world’s swing;
now I’m one part wish not to hurt,
three parts need to assert I exist,
like a cat splayed against each fresh day;
forgive my fur if it hisses,
forgive my breath if it whistles;
in the street I see teeth shredding flesh
and meaty tongues bedding bones;
I see the backwards light;
I see birds alone in blocks of ice;
I read the future in the orb of a spider
and cry myself a whole new eye, dear,
till I’m hard as snow and solid as time,
till the sun rises through my spine,
till paradise is sighted