The Surface TPB Review

Written by: Ales Kot

Art by: Langdon Foss

Publisher: Image

The Surface is not just a great graphic novel; it is a wonderful work of art and literature that I think really speaks about the place of graphic novels in today’s world. Although I have read it multiple times now, I still stumble upon new layers and nuances each time I read it. The Surface, no doubt, is a dense read and might come across as overwhelming to the average person. It almost expects this work from the reader, and in return, it promises an exciting journey, rife with reflection and introspection.

Three hackers, Nasia, Mark, and Gomez, are searching for ‘The Surface’, a utopian construct of sorts. While this premise seems like that of many sci-fi stories, The Surface only uses it as a vehicle to jumpstart its much more intriguing, psychedelic study of its author, Ales Kot. The story is definitely non-conventional, both in its approach to storytelling and also in its almost irreverent treatment of the reader. Although the reader would expect the story as a right, Kot seems to think of it more as a privilege.

As a trade, The Surface is excellent. It subverts expectations towards the end by delving into the psyche of Ales Kot himself. Once I read the last quarter of the book, I had to go back and read the entire thing with this new perspective, and I have to say that I read a completely different book the second time. Ales Kot really puts himself on display; at first he shows us his writing unfiltered and eventually, he shows himself. The Surface is honestly the first time that I have felt this close to a writer through his work. In these aspects, I found it to almost transcend the (apparent) constraints of the ‘comic book’, while still being so firmly tied to comic books.

In fact, there’s a page or two about the relationship between the writer and the artist that I loved.

In pages like that one, Kot shows his playfulness. Sure, he takes a very intellectual and philosophical route, but he neither takes himself too seriously nor sees himself as too important. Incidentally, he pays homage to a great many works of art, which gives the reader the same idea of Kot understanding his place. There is a plethora of these references throughout The Surface, and it would be a disservice for me to list only some of them, as I doubt I have even uncovered them all.

While my comments about The Surface focuses on Kot, I am in no small means discounting Langdon Foss’s work. Obviously, Kot could have perhaps reworked The Surface into a short story, but it wouldn’t have had the same impact without the incredible artwork. A lot of times, these graphic novels have one or two scenes with jaw-dropping  art while the rest is somewhat uninspired. Foss hits every single panel out of the park and creates the psychedelic atmosphere appropriate for Kot’s story. As I mentioned before, as much as The Surface has grand ideas, its core really lies in its ‘comic book-ness’, which is achieved primarily through Foss’s art.

As much as I hate to nitpick when it comes to such stories, The Surface does seem a tad disconnected at times, especially during the scenes with Loki. I understand that the character had to be present to round out Kot’s theme about parents, especially fathers, but the scenes with him always felt out of place, even for a novel that is constantly ‘out of place’. I think that Loki also highlights one of the weaknesses of Kot’s work–characters. While The Surface does focus a lot on the three hackers, they are never really fleshed out or given a voice of their own. Sure, they are introduced as characters outside the mainstream, but they are never given enough time for an arc. Such problems can be expected with works of this scope, but the reader might be disappointed, considering these characters have a lot of potential.

That said, Kot still leaves some room for his dry wit and commentary that I absolutely loved in Material, one of his other graphic novels. One of my favorites was his jab at Starbucks, which is definitely becoming the target of a lot of humor in media these days (The Lego Movie, anyone?).

At the end of the day, I think that The Surface is a lot like Material; if a cerebral, thought provoking piece of literature and art sounds like something you would like, then this comic is a must buy. On the other hand, if you prefer something lighter with less thought required, then I would not recommend it. Fans of Kot will definitely enjoy The Surface not just for its ideas, but also for its portrait of Kot himself.