Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Books: Philip K. Dick's Electric Ant


Philip K. Dick's Electric Ant
Written by David Mack
Art by Pascal Alixe

Available now from Islington Libraries
You can reserve this item for free here:

My heart fluttered a little when I saw this sitting the reservation shelf for me. I spent a bit of time the week before trawling through the Islington catalogue searching for new additons to stock and saw the title. At the time I didn't know whether to be pleased or appalled. From way back I have been quite a massive fan of Philip K especially his short stories (his novels are worth reading - but they all have an unfortunate tendancy to string out the traps with a billion joyfully crazy ideas and then run out of steam when it has to deal with stuff like characters, plot and - you know - tying everything together in a way that feels satisfactory): it's when he's writing stuff that's small scale and doesn't need to worry with niceties like making things hang together that he's at his best (anyone who ever tells you that they enjoying reading Philip K. Dick just for his prose is a flithy liar - the best reason for reading him is for the adrenaline shots of  far-out reality-distorting ideas).

If you ever want to read any Philip K Dick stories then I'd very much recommend that you read his later stuff. His earlier things read very much like pulply fifties science-fiction (which is obviously what they are) but after that (when he gets to the Sixties) his stories start feeling like they could have been written yesterday. There was a point in my life when I binged on all his collected short stories one after another (that was a good couple of months) and the ones that stick in my mind are Rautavaara's Case (with alien space Jesus and his alternative Eucharist); one about time-travel and evil butterflies (damn it - can't remember it's name and can't find it on google - maybe I imagined it?) and - hell yes - The Electric Ant.

It's been a long while since I've read it - but my memories tell me (obvious 'memory' is a little bit of a fraught term to use in the vincity of Philip K - but whatever): that The Electric Ant is a simply constructed small little slip of a story that only fills - what? - 3 or 5 pages - yet somehow managed to burn itself deeply into my subconscious like some sort of chemical burn (in fact: I've even mentioned it before on these very pages talking about Frank Miller's Hard Boiled - so there). If I had to describe it (if this isn't a little much) - it's like a 21st Century parable - distilling everything from personal identity to the nature of reality into one easily digestable pill [1].

The other reason my heart fluttered when I first saw the book in the flesh was David Mack's name on the cover (and his artwork - oooooh: check out that lovely image - so lovely and blue and white and spotless). Him I know from two different volumes of Daredevil where he worked as a writer and artist (I think at least - I could be wrong - maybe he just did the art for one of them? I can't properly recall). The point being tho: is that his drawings/paintings/whatever are lush, lush, lush. I mean - not only is he great at pouring in loads and loads of beautiful details and small evocative touches - but he also likes to break down the frames and limits of comics so that they look totally and awesomely - well - pretty. Think the same kind of neighbourhood as Bill Sienkiewicz and Dave McKean.

Except: damn it: then I noticed that his name came first. Which means - quick check inside - damn it: he's working as the writer not the artist (booooo).

So - ok - then I read it.

I think because I was expecting some David Mack artwork I was a little disappointed with what I got. It seemed kinda rushed and sloppy and just a little bit too ugly for my oh-so-delicate tastes. Also: I flinched a little when I saw that the book was a collection of 5 individual issues.You've got to keep in mind that the short story that this thing is based on is very very slight (indeed: that's kind of a part of it's whole charm): how on earth did these guys expect to stretch things out over 5 issues?

Well: at the start they manage things pretty well. Everything kind of takes it's time and it slowly eases itself into things and - yay for me - there are a lot of Philip K Dick references (all the way down to the sexy brunette who's seemingly up to no good - spoiler alert: Philip K had issues with women) and - unless I'm mistaken - 2 shout-outs to that William Blake line about if the doors of perception were cleansed etc. Alas! Although halfway through - and me having made my peace with the artwork - it seems like this is actually going to be something that is worth the time that it takes to read it - it then goes that final step with the Philip K Dick references and ends with a kinda oh-is-that-it? disappointing note.

So: not sure if I would recommend it - especially when you could just read a collection of Philip K Dick short stories (and if you haven't - then - hey - what are you waiting for?). Also - coming hot off the heels of writing about The Dark Tower - I'm a little bit - how should I say this - anxious (?) about the increasing proliferation of comics based on books and short stories. I mean - I know that Hollywood does it all the time - so much so in fact - that we've now entered the age where we have feature films based on goddamn board games (!?!) and - yeah sometimes we get good stuff when that happens (Blade Runner and Total Recall to name just two pertinent examples): and yeah - obviously I realise all the reasons they do it (hell: the first part of all the stuff I wrote here is just brand recognition) but mostly it just seems like a failure of imagination. And - especially when talking about Philip K - I think that we have good reasons to expand our imagiantions a little bit further

[1] Yes that's a Matrix reference: The Matrix - of course - part of the three-way tie (along with The Turman Show and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) for the award of "Best Philip K Dick film not actually based on a Philip K Dick book."

Links: Comic Book Resources Review of #1.

Further reading: Hard Boiled, Green Lantern: Willworld.

All comments welcome.

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