With 978-91-87325-43-4, mushbuh’s second solo venture, we are taken into an open-ended meta-narrative about technology, identity and online culture; how all of this has somehow managed to gradually take over a huge chunk of our lives. In simpler terms, it appears the author is asking the question: “What do people do all day?” With so many distractions available to us and the semblance of seemingly always being busy and not having enough time to get to everything… are we really, after all, actually moving forward or is it a regression, and we just can’t see it yet? We have arrived to a point in time now, where I think it is safe to say it would almost be impossible for us to return to our old ways, in regard to our increasing-everyday extreme dependency on technology and a constant desire and need to always be moving forward (see: personally, financially, etc.).
There is a term I want to reference: deskilled. Comics critic Kim Jooha describes it as “comics that are intentionally drawn in an ugly or ‘deskilled’ way, represent[ing] the very visual culture of today’s internet”. She even goes on to describe some of mushbuh’s work as “ugly, (intentionally) amateurish, repulsive, horrific, and humorous at the same time. They consist of collages, look like they were created in MS Paint, and feature the old and new technology.” I think it is very telling, in this sense, that mushbuh’s work tends to focus on technology and modern life. What better medium to employ then, (and in a deskilled manner) to tell a story that affects all of us?
978-91-87325-43-4 is kind of free-form, in that the protagonist takes semi-precise inventory of all the items they own, whilst also commentating on the marvels of modern life (“showers are invented to save time” as an example) but ultimately, they are left feeling dissatisfied, particularly with how easy it is to do just about anything these days—how, if you want something, it’s just one click away. There is really no challenge to acquiring whatever it is you want. In this way, there exists a quiet meditation on consumerism and the harsh reality that maybe we are buying all these things just to fill up some sort of void (inside?). While the topic addresses very important questions RE: society, as a whole, it never veers into super-dark territory, thanks to the medium-shifting cartoon visuals and airy meandering brand of storytelling.
The text opens with simple line work, accompanied by loose (not always within the lines) digital airbrushing. Then, on the very next page, the visuals mutate into pen-tool colored line work. On the third page, everything returns to the previous digital/airbrushed hybrid. The simple act of repeatedly changing up the presentation, whilst attempting to tell a coherent narrative, introduces an additional element to the story-telling, by directly injecting the person of the author into the text. I couldn’t help but wonder, does the medium keep changing because the author keeps growing tired of keeping to just one style? Or, is this an added confirmation that the author themselves also take part in the act of consumerism and they are showing this to us, the reader, by listing off all the artistic tools they posses, to tell one story?
Returning to the narrative, it isn’t the most linear or straightforward. For instance, there is a meta-narrative that appears 1/3 of the way through (there are no page numbers). This is in the “Fun Facts” corner of the book. mushbuh states: “I used Procreate for iPad to draw some of this comic. I don’t think I would use it again because I bought a Microsoft Surface to make my new comic.” Next to this, is a picture of a person, and then, on the same page, “I had fun making this book. I’m not sure what its[sic] about.”
Something I appreciate in mushbuh’s style of presentation is the open-ended nature of interpreting not only the visuals, but also the messages. Everything that is presented is done in a very matter-of-fact way, where, due to the apparent simplicity of the artwork, pretty much, what you see is what you get. But then, to address the chameleon-like nature of the characters, continually shape-shifting all throughout the text (…quite literally), abstract depictions of the same person, I think, do a very good job of challenging the reader in ways more conventional comics cannot. It’s also the type of text that is going to resonate differently with each reader due in part to how abstract it is. What I was able to pick up mostly has to do with my background and other texts I have read and researched. It is in using these reference points (the mass culture I have amassed over the years by consuming all sorts of media) that I began to form a more clear image of what 978-91-87325-43-4 is trying to say, perhaps.
The artist mushbuh continually pushes the envelope and is always willing (it seems) to try new and interesting ideas, presenting the comics medium as an ever-evolving art form. Deskilled comics, to me, are not a regression (or step backward) but rather, a just-as-viable form of comic making. While primarily working in 2d and 3d art, mushbuh also makes videogames, stickers and apparel. All throughout the text, there are gentle (as well as hard) reminders that we continue to exist in a world where consumerism runs rampant. The title itself, 978-91-87325-43-4, is effectively branding the book as another item to be acquired in the never-ending quest of, well… acquisition. It’s also funny to realize that unless you are willing to devote some time to memorizing the number sequence that is the title, it is going to be very hard to recommend to a friend (basically, you can’t Google this book unless you wrote down the numbers). In a deceptive way, mushbuh has created a commercial product that strives to remain invisible, yet here we are, with a written review on tcj.com.