Paul Hornschemeier is rapidly earning a name for himself as a top graphic novelist. In our review of Let Us Be Perfectly Clear, an anthology of short stories, we complained that its biggest problem, in our mind at least, was that the multitude of characters left us without enough depth. The Three Paradoxes counters this by taking a single character – Hornschemeier himself – and focusing deeply on him.
The main thrust of the book only occupies about 24 hours of real time, though Hornschemeier deftly uses flashback to capture background story. So what starts out as the simple story of a young man, struggling over a comic story he’s creating while on a stop-over at his parents’ house, actually brings back floods of memories and feelings. If it sounds like slush, it’s not – Hornschemeier almost skirts over them in the ‘real’ world of this story, internalising his feelings and perhaps only spilling them out as part of this creative process. His father, who he takes an evening stroll with, is doing exactly the same thing. Hornschemeier is careful to display a family that clearly love one another, but communication about feelings looks like it might be tricky, at least if we’re to believe this work as purely autobiographical.
Hornschemeier is a master of design and changing style, so while his present day is in a modern style, reminiscent of artists like Daniel Clowes, his flashbacks shift to a more cartoon-like, simply coloured style. He mixes in a bit of a Charles Burns horror section in the middle, explaining the subliminally disturbing story of how a man serving in a petrol station got a horrific scar on his neck. Then there’s the bit about the paradoxes, which has been designed to look like a decrepit comic from Hornschemeier’s youth, in which cutely drawn ancient Greek philosophers gather to discuss theories – Zeno sets out three of his paradoxes and Socrates ridicules them.
The paradoxes are an interesting element though. At times, Hornschemeier seems to feel like he’s standing still and unable to move – a metaphor for his creative struggles, the times when he feels unable to communicate, the feelings that flood back to him as he treads over his old stomping ground, and possibly even the medium of the comic strip itself. This is just one of the paradoxes examined, though you could draw connections to the others too. Despite their absurdities, Hornschemeier seems to use them as an escape route during difficult moments, perhaps using them as an intellectual excuse for his social ineptitude, which appears to be both genetically inherited and culturally engineered.
This leaves us with a thought-provoking book that’s challenging us to think in a different way, on all sorts of levels, without pushing itself into our faces. Like Zeno’s paradoxes, what seems simple on the surface gets more complex the more you look at it, despite the fact that it won’t leave you feeling lost.
Other titles by Paul Hornschemeier: