When it comes to reading Viewotron No. 1, the inaugural volume of Sam Sharpe’s ‘one-or-more-person comics anthology’ co-created with Peach S Goodrich, it’s all a matter of perspective. In the volume’s second comic, ‘The Secret Origins of Viewotron’, the eponymous thingamabob is revealed to have been a literal ‘deus ex machina’ created by Sharpe and Goodrich back in 2005 as a prop for an impromptu sci-fi film the two had been working on at the time. “It’s a machine whose purpose is unclear,” Sam confidently states, whose only explicit function being to reveal something “different” to whomever looks into it. When asked what exactly the Viewotron shows to the person peering through it, Sam simply replies, “Whatever your character needs to see.” This concept, of a tool facilitated to reveal the unseen and essential truth of one’s lived experiences through the animating spark of their subjectivity, is carried through to the color scheme of Viewotron itself: an mock-analyphic red and cyan composition evoking comparisons to the earliest forms of commercial 3D imagery. What at first is mundane can turn out to be revelatory, if viewed with the proper mindset. It’s an appropriate context for a disarmingly pleasant collection of stories that tackle everything from the anxiety of subjective experience, misplaced expectations, mortality, loneliness, and the aimless struggle to find one’s sense of place and meaning in the world.
Each of Viewotron’s ten comics tackles one or more of these themes, each with their own varying degree of seriousness or tongue-in-cheek surreality. For the Younonome, the race of advanced marshmallow-looking aliens portrayed in Sharpe and Goodrich’s The Golden Rings of Titan, it's a dogged pursuit for an objective, physical “truth” in a universe of otherwise subjective inference which bedevils their existence. Short and mildly hilarious, the story of the Younonome ultimately rings as a tragic one. A race of highly logical and absolute-minded creatures looking for purpose and meaning everywhere and anywhere save the one place where it might actually reside with any certainty— that of within themselves, their own lives, and bonds of solidarity and kinship they forge with one another. A simple message that, while some might take for saccharine, elicits the inevitable contemplation of how different are we, really, from these tiny, oh so well-meaning creatures?
Barring a few delightfully irreverent exceptions such as Goodrich's love letter to semi-functional social awkwardness in Betrand … is aloof or Sharpe's irreverent Who Will Name The Boy Bands?, the rest of the volume's comics either play out as allegorical vignettes of post-collegiate ennui, sci-fi-flavored odes to the well-meaning foibles of human relationships, or some weird yet satisfying mix of the two. That First Summer After College We All Stayed in the City and Founded Religions— well, pretty much precludes any meaningful introduction by dint of its name alone, but is nonetheless traces an arc from silliness to sobriety in the way it explores how people, in their own personal search for meaning, significance, and identity in age of uncertainty, can be made susceptible to home-grown superstitions while implicitly posing the question of, “Can something only matter if it's ‘real’?” Goodrich's David You've Got To Find A Home follows this similar train of soul-searching, following the titular late 20-something’s odyssey to find said home, culminating in a climax that is as thematically heart-warming as it is visually macabre.
So much of what makes this volume of Viewotron compelling could be summed up just through reading Sharpe's Perspectitus and The Orb of Disappointment. Taken together, these two stories tap into and epitomize an acute fear of missing out that courses quietly throughout the book, albeit in these stories on a altogether more cosmic level. The fear that comes with realizing that youth is finite and that our choices matter; the fear that we are utterly alone in a universe that is as immeasurably vast as it is seemingly indifferent to the plight of our yearning for validation and 'meaning’; The fear that the 'good’ will never feel quite as good as the 'perfect’, and that this feeling, of always “missing out,” will color every waking moment of our lives as surely as the inexorable fact of death. For as immense and intractable as these subjects may seem at a glance, Viewotron somehow finds a way to frame them with comedic levity and empathy. Stress Relief, Viewotron's denouement, ties the volume together in a vaguely Vonnegut-esque bow of winking, irreverent self-awareness. If the Viewotron, the Deus ex machina of Sharpe and Goodrich's short film, was meant to show a character “what they are meant to see,” then Viewotron, the comic, shows the reader characters as people so often are or capable of being— petty, fallible, funny, odd, lonely, loving, and stubbornly complex. In the end, it's all a matter of perspective.