Writer: Rodney Barnes
Artist: Selina Espiritu
Lion Forge, 2019
IMAGINE THE SURFACE OF REALITY skims past in a wave of ungraspable details, making a visible current in the elapsing moment as one’s self stands unmoved and unmovable, untouched in the center, filling with holy power as all things as “things” dissolve, and one’s magnified self reaches out to clasp the divine. Pure mysticism, or a ride in a fast car some might say, are very much the theme in this New Orleans story in a post-Katrina black neighborhood, where a kid catches a superpower like a virus from an asteroid shower.
The five-issue story appeared in 2018, shadowing current moods, and reflecting the gait of youth activism in black communities the last decades, around here anyway, aiming to motivate youngsters with admonitions to strive to achieve to succeed. The main message in the version presented here is to help others, even down to helping a little old lady cross the street. “It’s not about you all the time,” the characters keep telling Quin, the boy who becomes Quincredible, like a Sunday School sermon.
The drama of outrage at police brutality, frustration with gangs, and “a system where the rich get richer and the poor don’t get a thing” touches common themes of despair, and celebrates getting involved to make the world a better place: good, wholesome stuff that captures the vibe of high-dudgeon indignation so frequent in contemporary parlance.
“You should be ashamed of yourself. But since you’re not … I’ll be ashamed for you.”
This religious perspective revolves back on the self and a subjective universe of moral conflagration that juxtaposes my character and your character while an unremarkable scenery flickers past in the background, pretty much the same way the background scenes in the artwork by Selina Espiritu are mostly blank, pushing the people out front with nothing behind them. The empty environment reflects the ancient theology of pure spirit posed by writer Rodney Barnes, designed for poor people, where the world as such is a passing dream. Quin’s sweatshirt says ACHIEVE, affiliating him with an abstraction, not a thing in the world.
Yet the world endures and moves only as long as we continue to believe in and engage with it. Relations between people rely on physical links, not just you and I getting motivated, rather I and you and words and things and tools and shared activities working and doing. Interest in things is what elevates us, not just moral rectitude. This is culture, and culture enriches us together.
One scene with dad is indicative of this central unexplored issue, staring us in the face in this story and in our lives and communities, a crisis in modern mass culture devastating local activities and talents. Dad wants Quin to keep his room clean, do his chores, and keep up his schoolwork so he can succeed, yet he stands in front of the television with a bowl of popcorn on the couch, apparently a pensioned vet with no interests of his own, not stationed at his workbench, or learning at his desk, or in the garden, or cooking, or with a chess set, stamp collection, or musical instrument. Conversely, stories of rich people are filled with attention to fine language, manners, music and art, sports, hobbies, cooking, and engagement with others in established activities operating among them, things we may laugh at and reject rather than admire, yet also fail to replace with suitable substitutes within reach. Success isn’t the future, it’s now.
Moral indignation, evangelism, and conversion are not likely to result in our salvation here on earth. Railing about privilege, or aiming to become the privileged teaches nothing. We’ll need to concentrate on concrete knowledge and plans to successfully rebel and revise the way things stand in America post‑Katrina.