Review: Easy Rider by Jaakko Pallasvuo

Landfill Editions recently sent over a copy of Easy Rider, Jaakko Pallasvuo’s latest comic. Easy Rider was originally released as a part of two separate art installations, in various stages of completion; in process as a part of MOULD MAP 6 TERRAFORMERS in 2016, and then as a completed work as a part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs: Intimacy as Text exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. The book is 160 pages, printed as a collaboration between Landfill Editions and MUZEUM, Warsaw. Like much of the art produced in 2016, Easy Rider focuses on the political upheaval and collapse of the year. But Pallasvuo’s musings on the rise of the failed state give rise to something more ephemeral and mystic.

Within Easy Rider, an unnamed protagonist initiates our journey, and it is unclear if the book is fiction or if it is Jaakko Pallasvuo’s autobiographical musings. We see a gay white man who is unemployed and listless. He’s failed to get into medical school, he’s trying to find a purpose in his life. He muses on art and independent comics – it’s hard not to see this character as a stand-in for Pallasvuo. But the narrative shifts with a chance encounter between the protagonist and a hooded mystic on the run from the cops. Small details, which at first seemed arbitrary or a part of Pallasvuo’s world, suddenly change meaning, as we learn of a counter culture war between mystics with magical powers and the police state that wants to put them down.

As the story progresses, we find out: that what initially looked like a normal town is actually a futuristic city-state; that the police are stripped of their names; that Chris Ware was beheaded for his intellectual work; and that there was a failed Resistance to a government that uses drones to surveil the streets.

Throughout Easy Rider Jaakko Pallasvuo’s style remains intact, despite being constructed with a tool that specifically blunts precision. Pallasvuo’s previous work, Pure Shores, eschews realism for emotional intensity, and the same is true in Easy Rider. Pallasvuo finds ways to preserve intensity and depth within the fuzzy, monotonal structure with blurring and patterning. There are some interesting formal choices in the work – Pallasvuo constructs 2×2 and 2×3 grids, and then intentionally ignores them, giving his comics a feeling that time is passing (tick by tick, each panel a distinct marker of that time) while encompassing a larger thought or objective. The book kind of goes off the rails at the end, changing in ways you would not traditionally expect, and that makes it all the more strange and intriguing. The book is printed on glossy magazine paper in a purple monotone, which gives the book a sheen that emphasizes the unnatural aspects of the work.

Despite the clear political through-line of the book, Pallasvuo knows that the work is delicately walking on a thin rope. His antagonist, a police chief with the literal head of a pig, makes a grand statement in the middle of the book – “It’s easier for you if I’m cartoonishly evil, rather than a banal misguided bureaucrat-type senseless evil, right?” Pallasvuo recognizes that the easy narrative isn’t the truth. That acknowledgement of human failure of imagination subverts the trope and makes the reader more introspective. Pallasvuo breaks the fourth wall to point at the reader, and perhaps himself. He also seems to admit that his delving into the mystical and away from society at large is even more escapist than perhaps originally intended.

Easy Rider at its baseline presents an escapist fantasy, an unreal solution to a real problem. And, in the book’s unreality, it gives us a picture of the artist’s inner heart – the desire for beauty and good in the world, the desire to escape, the desire to slip backwards from the doomsday cliff we find ourselves perilously perched on. That intimacy is transformative.

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