What if your beliefs were challenged by the very thing you believed in? Ho Che Anderson’s Godhead sets the centuries-old conflict between science and religion at the center of its futuristic tale. Once upon a time, it was ‘God’s will’ if you died of influenza, or smallpox, or plague. God’s wrath against His would-be sinners was morally absolute until the microscope was invented, the germ discovered, and the vaccine created – which may well have been ‘God’s will’ too. Yet, the real question remains, how can we know which of those is God’s true will? Anderson’s latest graphic narrative takes this conflict to the next level by illustrating what might happen if humans found a way to talk directly to God through science. In a world where the Almighty’s voice is silent to all but the highest echelons of the clergy, holding on to false beliefs and the power of God’s voice may be worth killing and dying for. Powerfully aligning the operation of the modern corporate world with the mystical ancient religious order of the Vatican, Anderson collapses spiritual and capitalistic constructions with one fell swoop of his brush. Anderson expresses this power struggle as mirror images of one another, all the while suggesting that if we cannot operate without God, then God cannot operate without us.
This mirroring is expressed visually by Anderson through characters who continually examine their reflections in mirrors. But as we know, a mirror shows not what we are, but our opposite; as we stare into our reflection, our monstrous self stares back. For Anderson, this seems to emphasize an anxiety around man’s duplicitous nature. Anderson creates these reflections in fascinating ways across the text. The first manifestation of this intense focus is illustrated in eye-to-eye connections throughout Godhead. Even within the heart of his story-world’s action, Anderson’s inset panels take the time to engage in a silent stare between characters, between ideals, between enemies, between man and machine.
A second manifestation of this idea is noticeable throughout the text in the expression of the Janus. Characters’ heads somehow fuse between the background and foreground – facing in opposite directions, bleeding into one another, looking past each other, and moving towards starkly opposite goals. This repeated configuration of characters suggests that each character’s future may lie in the other’s past. It also suggests that each character is blinded to what is right in front of them – the other. It may be this overlooking of one another that is the true conflict at the heart of Anderson’s text. Anderson’s simultaneous focus on the back and the front of each character, positions the reader as the eyes in the back of each character’s head, shifting the text’s eye-to-eye connection into the search for an ‘I’ to ‘I’ connection.
The rich duality Anderson sets up with his characters is also expressed between his worlds – the clean-lined corporate world and the sensual and gritty underworld. These worlds are represented as starkly different by Anderson. The corporate world with its violence and espionage is expressed by the calm, cool contours of his artistic line evoking an empty and soulless dystopia. The dingy underbelly of this clean world is contrastingly expressed in rich textures and tones, filled with sensual surfaces and expressions of love and loyalty that feel more tangible and inviting than those expressed in the corporate world. Anderson’s dichotomy between his story-worlds poses the question: does the future we’re striving for come at the expense of our humanity?
Nonetheless, Anderson’s futuristic cityscapes are dazzling to behold, and he places you alongside his corporate characters as gods beholding their world with a bird’s-eye view. This staging might be one-dimensional if it were not for Anderson’s simultaneous visualization of intimate encounters alongside these majestic landscapes. Anderson’s layout acts simultaneously as telescope and microscope on the action, never letting the reader quite immerse themselves in the god-like view of the story, but rather keeping their focus on the many instances of love, difficult decisions, personal struggles, and rage that make up the human experience.
With Anderson’s work, it would be a shame to focus only on the panelization that make up his thought-provoking layouts. Instead, Anderson creates a much more fluid structure for his text within his asymmetrical grid use. Anderson’s artistic line arcs across the page in bold curves, giving his spreads a sweeping syncopated rhythm through an elegant use of spotted blacks. Figures seem to dance across the page, ebbing and flowing in their own current despite the panels. Lines from the panel above continue their curve in the panel below as the curve of a car’s windshield becomes that of the overpass the car is travelling under. This compositional attention to line beyond the panel makes for an encompassing story-world which is much more fluid than the gridded structure initially suggests.
While the craftsmanship of Anderson’s panels and pages are expert, it is in his double-page spreads that his work truly shines. It is as if a single page is not enough to contain Anderson’s full vision; it is his double-paged spreads that boast these juxtapositions between impersonal cityscapes and the intimate exchanges that make up his characters’ lives: a knock on the door, an unanswered question, an intimate embrace, an unspoken tension. A series of two-page military sequences set at the centre of the text are amongst Anderson’s most intricate work in Godhead. Set against a panoramic training ground, panels cascade like soldiers falling into formation with their platoon. Anderson blends shot-reverse-shots, first-person focalization, bird’s-eye views, and surrounding ground-level action in a way that is dizzying and energizing, reflecting the sensations within the military world. Each panel engages with the next and with the whole to mark seminal moments in the characters’ lives, while the repetition of eyes silently questions the unfolding action to discern truth from lies.
In this work, Anderson reminds us that our search for God is really a thinly-veiled disguise for our desire to be God in order to delude ourselves of our own insignificance. If God made man in His own image, the image that man has made of himself is questioned in this text. If man’s world is a reflection of man, then in Anderson’s text, its glossy finish does not do enough to hide the ugliness and deceit it is built upon. Interestingly, Anderson’s text ends with full-colored versions of some of the pages as they were initially intended. The colored end-pages will make you wish the entire book was undertaken in the rich riot of color Anderson is known for. While it would be interesting to see this color use returned to the next volumes in meaningful ways, perhaps a world scientifically experimenting on humans in order to reach God, is better off left not to color or even black and white, but to the endless grey washes of Anderson’s Godhead.