Patrick Kyle’s Don’t Come in Here follows a human (or human-like) character’s stay in a vast apartment unit: a five-year stretch of uneasiness. The place is home to a seemingly infinite number of rooms and hallways (yet only one wall away from an irritable neighbor), and it also serves as a laboratory for Kyle. His work examines the concerns of people living in built spaces—boundaries, security, productivity, boredom—and the nature of space itself.
Reading Don’t Come in Here is like navigating a built space. Kyle has subdivided the work into surreal vignettes, and the combination of the book’s dimensions and its use of tiered, two-panel grids makes each turn of a page feel like the next step down a corridor. This is not to say the space feels wholly new. The depth and the novelty of Kyle’s insights vary throughout the book—it’s the work of an artist who appears willing to try anything and unable to leave anything out.
At its best, Don’t Come in Here shows off a kind of Brechtian comics-making. Kyle’s pieces draw attention to different human dilemmas while also drawing attention to the comics form itself. In “Message”, the book’s main character knocks on a shared wall between its apartment and its neighbor’s, a move that creates a widening hole in the wall. Eventually, the neighbor appears at the hole, scolding the figure that knocked. In turn, the main character smears the hole and the neighbor inside it as if they were two-dimensional rather than existing in real space. It’s a funny, surprising formal trick as well as a vivid depiction of the challenge of living among strangers.
“Feet”, a vignette a dozen pages later, also involves anxiety and space. Kyle’s lead character, frustrated by smudges on the soles of its feet, kicks up dust from the floor. The dust rises in a series of painterly waves until it engulfs the character and occupies the full space of a panel. Before letting the dust out through a gap in the wall, the character wipes the dusty panels off as if they were lenses between the apartment and the reader. Then, in another bit of formal play, the black space depicting the gap reveals itself to be a three-dimensional solid and falls to the ground, causing more dust to rise. “Feet” has the backbone of a gag strip, in other words. But it also helps sustain an air of discomfort, undermining assumptions about visual shorthand that readers could ordinarily take for granted. These are all constructs, “Feet” reminds us: the apartment, the book, the language of comics.
This instability precludes Kyle from creating a world within Don’t Come in Here of any real depth, for better and for worse. The book has a minimalist setting by design—just enough for Kyle to explore understandings of space. Palomar-style world-building isn’t the point. And yet Don’t Come in Here arrives at a time when this type of intentionally limited environment reads like a stock feature of alternative cartooning. As such, there’s a limit to Kyle’s ability to unsettle readers. Don’t Come in Here sometimes reads as too familiar.
One sequence—in which cans of food contort into harsh, solid-black shapes as they spoil—is effectively grim. But it also recalls the recent comics of Noel Freibert, without quite matching Freibert’s ferocity. An earlier chapter, “Hallway”, which displays wild shifts in the lead character’s anatomy as the figure rushes to answer a doorbell, is the kind of riff on the mutability of bodies that a reader might also find in the work of Lilli Carré or Michael DeForge. A piece involving The Simpsons reads like something done a dozen different ways on Tumblr already—the kind of issue more self-editing would have resolved. But even when these sections are good, as with the ruined-can pages, they further an idea of alt-comics as a codified set of choices, rather than taking readers into new realms.
Where Kyle distinguishes himself is in depicting the failure to connect—in asking whether this is possible in a prefabricated environment—and finding the pathos and the humor in that failure. Some of the books’ best vignettes include exchanges between the lead character and its computer. In “Necessity”, the computer attempts to aid its fatigued, stressed-out, flesh-based master by suggesting the character ‘conserve energy and increase runtime by closing unnecessary applications.’ A later section, “Interior”, features a gem of a wordless reaction panel—featuring nothing but a computer monitor, no less—after the character asks its computer to reactivate a “disk modulator” the computer had previously been allowed to shut down. The close-quarters irritation is palpable.
A book like Don’t Come in Here is probably unspoilable, but to those who care, take caution: At the end of the work, an apartment landlord evicts Kyle’s lead character and then immediately takes the character’s bed. Through Kyle’s pacing, restraint, and use of perspective, the scene plays out as a kind of deadpan slapstick. It also depicts a very common, very modern disconnect, as the lead character discovers the limits of a transactional relationship. When Kyle’s work succeeds, as this segment does, it’s heartening—even without the presence of any real optimism. These are messages of alienation that manage to get through.