The first thing you should know about Material is that, as a running series, it was cancelled. As of the time in which this review was written, there is no planned continuation or sequel in sight. Hopefully, reading the volume with this frame of mind will allow you to read its conclusion as satisfying, rather than stressful or heartbreaking. As a single volume, it is complete unto itself, but the stories expand greatly if you look into the footnotes. They’re not merely citations or elaborations for further reading, but a way that the four interwoven stories of Material are grounded and connected to real life events. (So, as the introduction by Spencer Ackerman says, “Always read the footnotes.”)
Each two-page spread presents one of four stories that alternate in this order—a philosophy professor is losing faith in his life and his work; an actress is given a chance to create art that truly centers her; a black teen tries to make an impact against police brutality; and a veteran returns from Guantánamo Bay, haunted by PTSD and failing to reintegrate himself into his former life. These are stories of struggles and loss where the characters grapple with their sense of self and how they relate to the world, in a way that is more than just material.
Each storyline works from a different color palette of about five colors. This acts as a container for each story and helps to inform the mood, from a painfully jarring magenta showing rage, anger, and fear to washed out blues and browns conveying desperation and emptiness. The text is sparse yet poignant. In terms of presentation, the layout is relatively straightforward and easy to follow, encouraging you to spend more time with the content and motifs of the book. Each pained expression, each curl in an up-done hairstyle, each slouched shoulder can be read across stories, and this visual recurrence allows you to feel that these characters are dealing with very similar burdens despite their drastically different backgrounds.
This isn’t your typical David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) style of parallel stories where the end reveals the convergence of the characters and plot lines to form a magnificent revelation for the reader. In Material, the similarities have to do with the way each character deals with the pain of balancing their private and public lives, prompting similarly deep and private revelations for the reader. You must interact with this book as more than material and understand that this fiction represents real pain, such as we see underscored by the presence of the names of black people murdered by police, appearing in 45 total footnotes that literally underline the panels of this story.
The volume is a complete story, making it an appropriate addition to a library’s adult graphic novel section. Content warnings include drugs, alcohol, profanity, sex and sexuality, police brutality and violence. Extra content for this bound edition includes four essays following the comics and Spencer Ackerman’s introduction. Material is ideal for readers looking for a way to process the tragedy of current events outside of news and media outlets and would be an ideal (though heartbreaking) pick for fiction readers who are looking for a route to reading more nonfiction.
Material, vol. 1
by Ales Kot
Art by Will Tempest and Tom Muller
Image Comics, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: M