Friday, August 11, 2017
On his way to jail here is Devon Reyes, in a scene from Lost in Arcadia, a novel written by my old classmate, Sean Gandert. I met Sean while we worked on The Yale Record, our college humor magazine.
I remember one day in the office a few of us were going over some old issues or something and I believe I was talking about something fringe, like Magic: The Gathering for some reason. It might have come up from seeing the old "Religion Issue," which I recall had a Magic spoof in it. Midway through my meandering little aside, I realized I was about to receive the usual blank, disinterested stares from people merely humoring me in my quest to find people at least vaguely aware of what I was mumbling about. The sole reply was from Sean, seated just to my right, which I assumed meant he was the most obligated to offer a perfunctory response. He said something like, "Yeah, that's cool," so I dropped my shoulders just slightly with that familiar feeling that I just wasted my breath yet again trying to tell people about something that I love so much, but that nobody else has any knowledge of or curiosity about.
I retreated into that futility-fueled monotone I use when I want to fade as soon as possible from a pointless social interaction. I agreed, "Yeah, really cool," without a decibel of enthusiasm in order to expend the minimal amount of emotional investment while still politely acknowledging Sean's seemingly canned confirmation that my words had been heard by a human in the general direction my voice had been pointed. But he sensed my defeated, Sisyphean vibe and actually took time to affirm he was serious, "No, really." And he was serious! I was floored that he (anyone!) actually knew what I was talking about! Just about everybody I ever met at Yale didn't seem to even know what Magic was! At Yale! Yale! What I'm getting at is that Magic is actually in Lost in Arcadia! In other words, royalty check, please!
Whatever. Look, I've said it before, but if you want to develop an inferiority complex, go to Yale. Everyone there is more talented, skilled, and storied than you. If this is not true at any given gathering you attend while on campus, you're probably in the company of that creepy Davenport gnome, which isn't actually a person, but it's still probably more traveled than you, anyway. Or am I thinking of the Travelocity gnome? Is there even a difference? There is not.
My point is that my classmate wrote a novel! Geez. That's intense. I read it a few days after it released, but have only now been able to complete this drawing. It was strange! And I wasn't sure what happened in the end! You might even say, I got...lost. And I actually hadn't ever heard an apple described as "mealy" before, but you definitely get a mealy bang for your buck with this book, bud. Anyway, I was thinking about drawing the final scene where Devon [verbs] (no spoilers), but that didn't seem, well, arresting enough. Hence I illustrated this scene, which happens to be the chapter he previewed online, conveniently enough. The chapter depicted here was written as a video game walkthrough, which was something I wasn't aware was a possibility, and thought it was a pretty cool concept. A novel concept, even.
Here are some early exploratory stages of the image, including the abandoned full-paint preliminary. Kinda rough. Speaking of rough, I should warn potential readers, this book can get a little discomforting if you aren't prepared for it (and even if you are), so...be prepared. I had gone into the book with limited information beyond knowing that it was supposed to be a futuristic yet eerily accurate-to-present-day-climate dystopian novel. He began writing it years ago apparently, but there's a racist, fascist guy in the White House, implementation of a Great Wall of Freedom, etc.
I myself wouldn't call it a "satire," as I understand it (I heavily regard humor as an essential ingredient beyond mere exaggeration). Since we met on the Record, I had hoped the novel might even be some kind of dark comedy. But nevertheless satire's a term I've seen associated with the book. I guess, it's because what he describes in the book is kind of happening now is why it doesn't feel exaggerated, although it surely was at the time of writing. So regardless of intention, the book, as read today, felt more like we're just observing a world similar but not utterly outre to ours and with better technology. In any case, I was in it mainly to support Sean, but also to see how frighteningly accurate he predicted present day, and to see how Arcadia worked--I love the idea of an alternate world consuming people trying to escape their realities.
I didn't quite feel the immersion or all-encompassing nature of Arcadia. Something happens in the end that sorta gets to where I thought we might be throughout the novel, but then the book ends! Instead, logging onto Arcadia felt like, well, starting up Firefox. You can spend all day there, but it doesn't really feel like you're logging into the Matrix, where you are in there to the potential detriment of your actual being outside of the system. I didn't feel like I was abandoning this world for a limitless jungle, but just seeing a picture of jungle on the wall of a room I fully occupy. I guess it's not as big a deal, but then again, I never really felt lost in Arcadia, just stopping by Arcadia. The end arguably makes up for it, but it's so brief!
Bonus WIP version here, by the way. It all started with an orange basketball. Or jumpsuit. Note Devon's is oversized and the giant to the left has an undersized one. Still managed to get the tears in there, too. That was the key detail I wanted to capture here, him struggling and failing not to cry.
So I didn't really latch onto Arcadia so much as Devon's story, as well as Gideon's and Haight's, who wasn't explored as much as I was hoping. In fact, it almost felt like those non-family sections, while interesting and context-setting, didn't really impact the core family story. Like it was just a bonus, concurrent story on top. There's some intersection in a general sense, in that both family and Haight occupy the same country and climate, but they really felt more like parallel worlds than inter-meshed ones--it felt like a story about grass with occasional snippets about the clouds. But Haight's chapters are definitely not to be missed, short but sweet(?) and weird(!). Ah, maybe "Haight" because he exists so high above everything else, rendering them essentially irrelevant to him, which I definitely felt. I already got how each of the kids represents a major function of the Internet: business, play, creativity, indulgence, but that felt pretty straightforward.
Over all, I would say Devon's story was the most compelling, though I am of course biased towards finding stories about younger people more credible than stories about grown ups. The novel follows each family member's individual stories throughout, though, and the slow buildup finally goes off like an explosion in the last few chapters, as we dart around to see how everybody's doing in the final blitz once everything really starts to come together. It is around these final chapters where I found the most image-conjuring scenes. But that's another story.