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Comics - Comics Reviews - Review | by Pedrovmoura in Comics - Comics Reviews on 27/05/2010 - Comments (0)

In Search Of God / Chapter III of III / Caminhando com Samuel

Caminhando com Samuel by Tommi Musturi / Huuda Hudda / 5ème Couche / Optimal Press / Mmmnnnrrrg


An article proposing a close, conjoint reading of three recently released comic books that address God.

This article comprises in three parts not counting with this introductory piece. I will address each of the books separately, but the reason they are bundled together in one breath is due to the fact that they can be united under the same roof, matter and or theme. In very different ways these comic books address the issue of God.

The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb (Fantagraphics),
Dieu en personne by Marc-Antoine Mathieu (Delcourt) and
Caminhando com Samuel by Tommi Musturi (Huuda Hudda/5ème Couche/Optimal Press/Mmmnnnrrrg)

Despite the fact this book has no real diegetic text, it was issued in several languages at the same time: Finnish, French, Swedish and Portuguese. I am following this last edition, and its title and in English would be something like “Taking a walk with Samuel”. It collects into one volume, a series of short very colourful stories that Musturi has published in several comic newspapers and magazines over the years and throughout Europe, namely the wonderful Kuti Kuti, edited by him. This is great news and shows a still-growing network of independent and likeminded artists, publishers and comic-related people across Europe (and SuccoAcido may be an active agent for this too).
Musturi’s approach is sometimes close to that of the now extinct Forth Thunder group. He employs a rather strong, colourful approach, reminiscent or close to that of Ben Jones, for instances, and his style, like that of the American artist, reemploying figures that remind us of classical cartoons and comic characters, too bright four-color hysterics and a relentless narrative energy. Caminhando com Samuel shows us a little whitish creature, a sort of one-eyed ghost, leisurely walking through landscapes, some more uncanny than others, some inhabited by similar creatures, others complete deserts, and others with lavish gardens filled with fresh fruits and birds of song.
Up to a certain point, Musturi’s book can be seen under an allegorical light. In more than one way, it reminds us of one book such as Le Roman de la Rose or the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, with its characters walking in and out of wonderful places filled with wonderful sights, pleasuring all the senses as they go along (movement is key here). And in fact, Samuel not only sees things, he also tastes, hears, carves, plays, caresses and hunts things. He even farts on them. This book presents “chapters”, “episodes”, “chambers” or “rooms” separated by two-page spreads with an image that despite having no connection to the “story” does play a role for its overall meaning. Each chapter shows Samuel walking across continuous landscapes or worlds (the edges of each panel seems to be connected to the following, in most of the chapters, all of which are presented with a four-panel grid). The wunderkammer of the world or worlds visited by Samuel may not be created by him – which is to say, Samuel is not a demiurge god – but by his movement, his promenade he brings that world into view, our view, and into being. Thus, its being is to be seen. What other basic purpose would a “picture book” have?
In that, and taking in account the almost linear movement of Samuel from one end of the book to the other, it reminds me of Ivan Maximov’s wonderful short animation From Left to Right, in which forms are created as we move alongside them, their life holding no other ontological purpose than their immediate existence in the composition before our eyes. Or even more still, that same director’s 5/4, whose little main character seems to pursue a nonsensical action, in order to allow us to travel across his world with its strange inhabitants. This also represents something as a return to the kinetic properties of classical comics, stories and films, from Töpffer to Hergé (flying sheets of paper leading to an adventure; and what is an adventure, even etymologically, than movement, a voyage?), from the machines of Rube Goldberg to the circular chases around a closed space (in which you see the repetition of the background and its elements) in so many classical cartoons. Samuel just goes on and on. Nothing stops him, and if he ever stops – to sleep, to look at the skies, to play a handmade wooden flute, to swim – it is to trigger some other kind of action.
In one of the strangest episodes of Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil (A Brief History of the Portable Literature), by Enrique Vila-Matas, I have come across a sentence that points out for me an interpretative course of Musturi’s book: “The marionettes were useful for the portables [the creative movement that this book purportedly contains] as a metaphor for a happy being, a being in movement, whose action was not dependent of its own consciousness. They were also perfect to theorize the foundations of a wise journey among the great risks of knowledge and the high lights of grace. And they were also used to tell stories continually, an essential pleasure for any journey”. Vila-Matas’ book speaks also of other creatures, which we can sometimes be interpreted as synonyms amongst themselves, and other times as doubles of doubles: doubles proper, odradeks (repeating Kafka’s creature), golems, shadows, zombies, and vampires. We could also add noses (as Gogol’s), or even “an idea of God”.
This quote presents several departure points, and also points of convergence in relationship to Musturi’s book. First of all this idea of a self-sufficient movement of an apparently inanimate creature, which has its own balance nexus (I suppose Vila-Matas is quoting Kleist, of which is more a little further), seems to mirror the apparently mechanistic and causal movement of Samuel, from one end of the book to the other without being entangled in the psychological mesh (and mess) of a literary character. That is why, once again, Caminhando com Samuel seems to create a direct relationship with those comics by Töpffer, one of the first major contributions for a pure kinetic kind of comic, in which we will find so many, many names, from Opper to Saint-Ogan and Hergé, from Rube Goldberg to Kirby and an infinite set of etc.
Heinrich von Kleist’s Über das Marionettentheater (On the Marionnette, or On the Puppet Theater) is pivotal here. In this wonderful essay by the German writer a puppet is an absolutely unhindered creature (“the force that lifts them into the air is greater than that which pulls them to the ground”, as one English translation found on the internet goes), unlike the dancer, or humans in general who can never attain that kind of harmony because there is always place for consciousness, thus doubt. That is to say it is Man before the Fall, which is one of the usual clear-cut interpretations critics do of Kleist’s puppet. In fact Kleist even says that we should “make a journey around the world, to see if a back door [of Eden] has perhaps been left open”. I think that we can see here once again that kinetic nature of Musturi’s continuous landscape, which is traversed by Samuel as much of Maximov’s and his characters.
Samuel under this perspective, is a puppet of this sort; he is Man before the Fall. He moves unhindered, he is pulled into the air (into the flow of the book) powerfully. He is what surrounds him. He is indivisible from the whole; he knows not the split between subject and object that is our own human condition (the source of our anguish but also the source of our endeavors). He is but pure being, at one time kinetic, unstoppable, and unmovable, unchanging. And the fact that this Samuel is made of lines on paper, only allows us to better still see him as an integrant part of the flow of the book that he is what we see around him.
However, an attentive reader of this book may note that there is change in Samuel. The first image, the frontispiece, shows something like the discarded skin of Samuel; the next spread shows a skinless Samuel walking with the visible redness of his muscle tissue. The first episode shows what seems the creation of the universe, from a black void interrupted by little swirling lines of blue, pink and yellow (this is important) to a “big bang” (of color) and then, in rapid succession the formation of the planets, the atmosphere of Earth (I think we can call it Earth), undifferentiated dirt and green, gear-like plants, trees and flowered bushes. From out of these appears fully-formed, cigarette smoking, erection showing Samuel. The last panel of this chapter shows Samuel “having an idea”: as comics go, his idea is presented as little big bang on his head, sporting pink, yellow and blue color blasts and swirling lines followed by a two-spread page with a close up of Samuel’s unexpressive face, and a giant rainbow crossed with a puzzle pattern behind him. The last episode is closed with Samuel just outside a great bricked wall, through which he can peek inside (we see a luxurious garden; is it Eden?). Samuel cannot enter, so he takes out of his own pocket (which we couldn’t possibly imagine he had) what seems to be a root, and plants it on the sandy terrain he just crossed. We take flight and become ever more distant from him, as if watching an extreme bird’s eye shot, moving upwards from the ground. We see the panel divided diagonally into two major areas: the colorful garden and the brownish desert, divided apart by the thick brown line of the wall. We go even further, the squiggly lines abate until they’re straight lines, and we see a panel with thick, clear, blue, pink and yellow lines. After a page with the only text of the book (apart from the title), a sort of non-descript, unimpressive list of “truths” (just like at the end of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life) – “Accept everything/Keep on moving/No fear/No expectations/Keep yourself pure/Be careful” –, Samuel appears one last time walking once again in an otherwise blank page becoming increasingly thinner until he literally pops away as an asterisk, a footnote whose text was not written.
The attention I’m giving to the three repeated colors is obvious: this is the triad (again!) of cyan, magenta and yellow that make up the most known coloring technique. But what’s the point? Why should this be important for the reading of Samuel’s adventures? What is the role that these three colors play not only throughout the “stories” but on the ontology of the character itself?
The colors appear repeatedly in many forms throughout the book from blasts of light to metaphors of sensations. But most importantly they are part of the printing technique of the book itself. This means that we may interpret them as a self-referential device that point out the fact that what happens within the book is part of the book, a paper universe. Samuel may not be its demiurge, its creator, but he is the signal that lingers on as the hand of its creator passes through it. That higher hand crushes and tortures Samuel several times, reducing him to lines and forms and colors, reshaping him, undoing him (perhaps it is the same hand which wrote on Belshazzar’s wall, heralding powerful change and eternal steadfastness). But one would have no purpose without the other.
In a convoluted way Musturi’s book responds to the anagogical method. It’s as if this strange tale pointed out a possible view of that which awaits us “on the other side”, as if this was the translation of his mystical vision of that beyond, in which we not only come face to face with the Godhead, but we become one with it or are barred from it for eternity as it seems to happen with this little creature.
Samuel is also a cousin to the odradeks, in the sense that as Kafka’s creature, he hovers between danger and bliss; they both seem to be useless, but also unmovable and eternal. Perhaps Samuel’s path is circular, perhaps it is a metaphor for eternity. But we also mentioned noses and an idea of god: that is to say, perhaps he is a sort of metonymic projection, quite simple, of the author himself, or an outwards projection, in the direction of the eternal, the last cause. “Samuel” is a Hebrew name, that rarely changes its shape from language to language, and its meaning etymologically speaking is, “the name of God”. But Samuel is not the ultimate Godhead, as we have seen; he is played by a higher hand: Samuel is not just any puppet, he is THE puppet, a perfect in-between character, a mirror of both God and us.

© 2001, 2014 SuccoAcido - All Rights Reserved
Reg. Court of Palermo (Italy) n°21, 19.10.2001
All images, photographs and illustrations are copyright of respective authors.
Copyright in Italy and abroad is held by the publisher Edizioni De Dieux or by freelance contributors. Edizioni De Dieux does not necessarily share the views expressed from respective contributors.

Bibliography, links, notes:

Pedro Vieira de Moura

Related articles:

In Search Of God - INTRO
In Search Of God - Part I - The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb
In Search Of God - Part II - Dieu en personne by Marc-Antoine Mathieu


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Tommi Musturi - Caminhando com Samuel - Cover - croped
Tommi Musturi - Caminhando com Samuel, God puts asunder
Tommi Musturi - Caminhando com Samuel, landscape 2
Tommi Musturi - Caminhando com Samuel, slowtime

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