Imagine if The Dude of The Big Lebowski ventured beyond bowling in the stars and flying above Los Angeles. Instead, he began an adventure in this fantasy world, where there’s only a fine line between illusion and reality.
Eric, a graphic novel by Tom Manning, takes your comfort in the ordinary and the logic of life. It then transforms it into a deep and emotional exploration of conspiracy theories and the power of television…
…what better way to explore such a thing than through the mind of a drug-fuddled nostalgic rocker from the 60s and 70s?
What’s this All About…Man?
A man who hates The Beach Boys and the thought of becoming a relic, Eric attempts to revive his career through a greatest hits album, making prime-time guest appearances on television and late-night. It isn’t until our protagonist comes across a man that he’s seen in his dreams that the plot becomes more and more twisted.
During a performance on television, his dreams of late-night rituals with men in long cloaks become reality through the cult of Grimoire Five. They task him with seeking out their last member, Four, in order to stop The Owls of Bohemia from finding her first.
Then, along with Four and another traveller known as Nash, Eric’s goal is to use his music and broadcast it at Buffalo Station around the country to restore balance in this world.
This is very much the story of a man out of his element, taking great risks in finding Four in a parallel post-apocalyptic universe like that of the Kill Zone and Taxmen.
The reader jumps between this world and the reality of Eric’s, and sometimes these jumps – or whether you’re in the psychedelic world or not –aren’t always clear. You often find yourself asking “which is which”?!
Whilst this came up a lot in my reading of Eric, and confused me to such an extent that I had to reread scenes over and over again, it doesn’t affect how I see the story play out.
It’s rather spectacular how Manning has been able to create this surreal world without making it too unfamiliar. This would not have been possible, however, without the help of the unique characters that makes his graphic novel so compelling.
Eric is very much a person who finds it difficult to understand the world around him and approaches it in a humorous and confused manner that makes him more likeable. He is a character we can relate to because of our unfamiliarity with whatever is going on; but also one that surprises us with how quick he adapts and learns from this fantasy world.
It seems that in this fantasy world, the underlying themes of Eric are all about unraveling popular culture of television and music; the images of Americana of the 60s and 70s. At times, the entire comic is presented to you in a way that makes you question the validity of what you’re reading.
The artwork, also by Tom Manning, is well thought out and psychedelic; a very fitting style that matches the tone of this California. The black and white palette makes this grim world slightly grimmer and gives an eerie and chilling feel to this story.
There were moments, however, where there could have been more clarification on the scene changes that occur within each chapter. Not necessarily with more detail but possibly with dialogue to make this clearer. The panels seem to blend too far together, to a point where it got confusing to determine where one scene ended and where the next one begun.
Change The Channel
Despite this, the ten-year project of Eric is one that has captured the feeling of irrelevance and taught us how to overcome it through our own perception of things.
If you’re interested in an original comic that feels like The Big Lebowski, Alice in Wonderland, and Twin Peaks tied up into one, with the backing of some nostalgic 60s and 70s psychedelic rock, then you need to read Eric. It will have you thinking about it even after you’re onto your next comic.
The author also worked on a full cover album – played and produced by Leslie Stevens and Mike Relm – that you can find here. My suggestion is that you don your headphones and listen to each song as you go through the pages. It will greatly benefit the experience.
And if you want to learn more about Eric and his surreal shenanigans, then go and support the book by buying it from Amazon, which is definitely worth a read.