There’s a character in Will Eisner’s classic Spirit comic called Gerhard Shnobble. Gerhard Shnobble was a humble man who lived his whole life in the shadow of other peoples’ lives. The thing is, Shnobble had a secret: he could fly. This seperated him from other men, but unfortunately even in his moment of greatest triumph, life intervened: caught in a shootout between some criminals and the Spirit, Schnobble fluttered to the ground, dead. Eisner’s final words are haunting: “And so… lifeless… Gerhard Shnobble fluttered earthward..but do not weep for Shnobble… Rather shed a tear for all mankind…for not one person in the entire crowd that watched his body being carted away…not one of them knew or even suspected that on this day Gerhard Shnobble had flown.”
Shnobble’s flight is a metaphor for the freedom that each of us feel we need to make from the grind and frustration of our daily lives. We all want to fly, to be free, to get away from our problems. But life, full of unexpected events, has a way of mercilessly shooting those dreams down.
The unnamed protagonist of Alex Cahill’s Xeric Award-winning book is a Gerhard Shnobble, a man so ground down by the pain and frustration of his life that he yearns, with an intensity proportional to his pain, to fly. Divorced, childless, and even, suddenly, jobless, he is desperate to break free of all the pain he feels. To him, everywhere he turns is pain. The newspaper brings news of bombings and kidnappings. The radio brings vapid happy talk, and coworkers just bring more of the same. The forced happiness only reinforces the real pains and frustrations that life brings to him. He’s even haunted by advertisting that reads “Isn’t it just a BURDEN to keep in touch?” The word “burden” haunts the protagonist. He feels himself to be a burden to society, and that society’s expectations are a burden to him. What is left? To fly, to dream of freedom. If the world outside is oppressive, one must retreat inward to be free.
This comic is as unique in style as it is in story matter. The comic is virtually wordless, though the newspaper headlines and billboards have words on them. It has an impressionistic style to it, and symbolism is important. The literal facts of scenes are less important than the feelings they convey. In the same way, Cahill’s art is loose and impressionistic while also conveying the feel of the story extremely well.
Make no mistake, this is an early effort in Cahill’s career, and the cracks do show. There has to have been a better way to convey the information in the newspapers and billboards than using words that break the reader out of the story’s unique flow. The effect of the words is rather jarring compared with the rest of the book. And the pacing, especially in the first sequence, is rather awkward.
But any story that brings up thoughts of Will Eisner deserves a Xeric Award. This is a very interesting comic book.