Last year, the sheer nerve of Wild Children’s block-red, text-only cover demanded that I take the book from the shelf and buy eight dollars’ worth of comic even though it was by creators I’d never heard of. It was an impulse purchase, but one that rewarded me with a story that was intelligent and thought-provoking, but oddly sensual at the same time. Since then, Ales Kot has been my default answer to the question “Which creator is exciting you right now?”. It’s early in his comics career, but Kot has already proved a chameleonic writer with no two projects alike in spirit of execution. He’s even managed to earn his stripes by getting creative-differenced off a DC title (Suicide Squad) only a couple of issues into a much-hyped run.
Ales Kot’s current ongoing series, Zero, is a sci-fi espionage thriller with a rotating cast of artists that is at once brutal and cerebral. But when I think of the best comics I read in 2013, Zero is still only Kot’s second best work. That’s because I can think of few series more suited to me than the miniseries he began 2013 with: Change.
Change was written by Kot, drawn by Morgan Jeske, and almost defies any more specific description than that. You’d call it psychadelic and hallucinatory, and you’d be right, but it’s more carefully-crafted than such labels suggest. It stars a rapper, a screenwriter and a spaceman who are attempting to prevent a literal apocalypse in Los Angeles while dealing with their own existential nightmares. It’s tense, funny and nightmarish, powerfully surreal but utterly compelling in its narrative. It’s fantastic, not just because of Kot’s story – but because the creative team, from the artist to the colourist (Sloane Leong) to the letterer (Ed Brisson) is working in complete synchronicity, each adding their own element of tone, call-back or exposition. When a comic goes right, this is what it looks like.
In many ways, it’s a miracle that a story this dense, produced so collaboratively, is comprehensible at all. It’s the kind of project that can only happen by complete accident or by extreme design, and I wouldn’t like to speculate which one of those elements is at play here. Change is rare and brilliant, but also fragile in its complexity. I almost don’t want to pull at it too hard in case it falls apart. It’s not the sort of project that everyone’s going to love, but if you fall for it, you’ll fall hard. It’s all the things I want out of good art: it’s earnest but not serious, imaginitive but not goofy, self-aware but not self-conscious. You can probably pick a hundred books released this year that are structured more coherently or have a clearer point to make, but few of those will make you feel like Change does. Like the end of the world is coming and maybe this can stop it.