Influences on Ben Passmore’s Daygloayhole #1
By now, you’ve read and loved Your Black Friend (2016), Ben Passmore’s minicomic about the anger African-Americans feel when white people exhibit unconscious and insensitive racism. Perhaps you read it in the recent collection Your Black Friend and Other Strangers (Silver Sprocket, 2018), where the minicomic joins other Passmore strips, including several (“Letter from a Stone Mountain Jail” , “Whose Free Speech?” ) originally run on the politically-engaged cartoon website The Nib.
Although Your Black Friend continues to garner attention (one example is Hillary Chute’s recent review of Passmore’s collection in the New York Times), there’s been less talk about Passmore’s Daygloayhole #1 (Silver Sprocket), a 32-page, full-color comic that appeared in shops in early May. Maybe this is because Daygloayhole—a punk apocalyptic adventure—is so very different from Your Black Friend.
Daygloayhole is a young man’s comic. Daygloayhole’s “letterz page” begins with Passmore noting that he drew the comic three or four years ago, when he was “still wearing suspenders and listening to accordion music,” and then shopped it around the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo. As in many early comics projects, Daygloayhole shows a young artist borrowing and detourning the work of his favorite cartoonists; Passmore’s influences flow through Daygloayhole like joyous bolts of adrenaline. Let’s briefly explore Passmore’s possible indebtedness to three artists who shaped him while he wandered around the dealers’ room at CAKE, snapping his suspenders, looking for fans who shared his enthusiasms.
There are at least two types of science fiction: stories that portray a future based on careful extrapolation of present-day trends and innovations, and stories (and authors) that don’t care about plausibility, diving instead into their expression of an idiosyncratic world view. A key example of the second approach is the art of Brandon Graham—currently a controversial name in comics, due to accusations of his inappropriate behavior toward trans women at comicons and other events. Despite this controversy, Graham’s cartooning remains influential to a generation of science-fiction visualizers, including Ben Passmore.
With Emma Rios, Graham co-edited the Image Comics anthology Island (2015-2017), and Island’s first issue (July 2015) ends with “Polaris 1,” the closest Graham has come to a statement about his artistic process. In “Polaris,” Graham writes of his love for “thinking about fictional spaces from all angles,” and the different views from which he can present a story. (Do I go with an overhead shot in this panel, or with an off-center close-up on an object or person?) Graham also discusses the importance of setting in his work, how a story’s environment can imply other stories “going on in the world” around the main protagonists through an accretion of unexplained details, as in this page from Island #1’s “Warheadz 2: Ghost Town,” Graham’s continuation of his series Multiple Warheads:
Much is unexplained here (and throughout Graham’s pages). Why do we need a diagram of Nik’s toothbrush? What does the bird-headed bar sign say in panel two? Who is “Tori” (“Tori’s house,” “observe a Tori”)? What spatial and narrative connections do the characters and objects in the fourth panel have with anything else on the page? As Brian Nicholson writes of a previous Multiple Warheads story:
The grander the scope of the idea, the more easily it falls into the background. It is mentioned there are spaceships filled with people gone to fight a war with wolves; they explode in the atmosphere. What’s foregrounded, as the thread of a larger narrative is either lost or ignored, is not specifically sex, but being in love, driving around, taking in the sights, taking in meals. It’s a book about moving forward in time, moving through space, being a body. (The Comics Journal website, 4/4/2014)
“The thread of a larger narrative is either lost or ignored.” The texture of poetic world-building is much more vital to Graham than the building-to-a-climax chain of linear narrative, and the overall effect on the reader is a hipster take on science fiction, a “coolness” that refuses to deliver a conventional (and thus boring) narrative.
One of Passmore’s central characters is “No Limitz”—the phrase is tattooed across his forehead—and on this page he and his dog slaughter a post-apocalyptic “Urban Renewel” group that threatened to kill them. One specific formal element Passmore borrows from Graham is the small inset panel: in panel three of “Warheadz 2,” the tiny square that gives us a marginally closer view of Nik and Sex (“Is that guy pooping?”) becomes the two circles (one of the dog’s teeth, and one of No Limitz with the angel) on the Daygloayhole page. But Passmore’s debt runs deeper: like Graham, he deviates so frequently from his skeletal main narrative that the energy in his work lies in the self-conscious style he brings to the material. Note the playful violations of the fourth wall, such as the sound effects that explicitly describe actions (“Choke!” “Face Push!”) and No Limitz’s direct address to the reader in the final panel (“I’ll eat ur face!”). Note also that much of Passmore’s page is a one-off, narratively-tangential joke: the conversation with (and murder of) the angel has nothing to do with No Limitz’s central mission, his quest for food, as expressed on this page and elsewhere in Daygloayhole. Like Graham, Passmore repeatedly winks at his reader as he tells his story, defining storytelling itself as a game that’s fun and cool to subvert.
Daygloayhole begins with the apocalypse in media res. The opening splash is a mélange of smoke, crumbling buildings, and long-lasting screams represented by massive word balloons extending to the near-bleed of the vertical panel borders. Giant whistling cockroaches scuttle by, while “Mad Maxy marauders” and “dystopian subterranean cannibal societies” point to a self-aware “lame ‘90s vision of the future.” The most common visual element of the early pages of Daygloayhole, however, are silver obelisks that explode from the ground—“their lacquered fingers jutting from under piles of florescent gravel”—to loom over the landscape. This whirlwind of inexplicable cataclysmic events hints at another major influence on Passmore: B.P.R.D., the Mike Mignola-masterminded series about the slow end of Hellboy’s world from the point-of-view of humans only dimly aware of the reasons for Doomsday. I can’t know for certain, but I think Passmore reads and loves B.P.R.D., and good for him; the B.P.R.D. run written by Mignola and John Arcudi and drawn by Guy Davis (from Plague of Frogs  to King of Fear ) is my favorite American genre comic of the twenty-first century.
Visually, Passmore seems also to appreciate Davis’ energetic art. Below, a comparison between a panel from Davis’ B.P.R.D: King of Fear (issue #4, April 2010, page 3) and Daygloayhole #1 (page 2):
Although Davis’ art looks more naturalistic (thanks to details like the brush strokes indicating hood folds), both he and Passmore take a cartoony approach to the human body. Davis and Passmore draw individualistic, exaggerated noses, and capture simplified, frozen gestures that distill how humans might react in extreme circumstances. Davis expresses fear in the backwards tilt of the head and gaping eyes of Andrew Devon, the B.P.R.D. member closest to the right panel border, while Passmore’s top-hatted figure leans his entire body back, raising his cartoony approximation of a hand to exhibit confusion and apprehension. (A panel later, Passmore’s characters are burned to death.) Both panels have smoky backgrounds, and both feature characters talking about something shocking (and inexplicable) in their lines of sight. If the endless catastrophe narratives in contemporary American popular culture reflect our frustration with our current deadlocked age of corruption and lies—maybe we should flip the table and start over!—then both Davis and Passmore bring similar skills and observant eyes to their metaphors for American decay.
Daygloayhole’s central character is “Ben,” a self-conscious intellectual unprepared to survive Doomsday. Ben is especially hobbled by daddy issues (his taciturn father drops into Daygloayhole to mutter a few rueful jokes and kill a man, before he vanishes again out of Ben’s life) and an addiction to pornography. In fact, Ben wants to rid himself of this addiction by diving into an “ocean of porn” that has somehow become a physical feature of the post-apocalyptic landscape; Ben hopes that an “overload” of naked girly pictures will burn out his compulsion and allow him to be a “real person.” Ben’s story (and the first issue of Daygloayhole) ends on a cliffhanger, as Ben gets his first glimpse of the vast porn wave:
Passmore give Ben a soliloquy about his struggles with porn, and there’s a funny, weird juxtaposition between Passmore’s bohemian science-fiction world and the earnest, pseudo-Marxist diction that Ben uses to describe his addiction as an ideological symptom:
I can’t deny that I’m contributing to capitalism’s ceaseless desire to turn our basic human emotions from appreciating each other into a drive to perpetuate the market, which in turn maintains the dehumanization inherent in capitalism. It makes me buy proxies of emotional connections so that I think everything has a price tag!
In his vacillation between sexual self-stimulation and his guilt over same, Ben reminds me of Joe Matt as portrayed in his late-1980s one-page strips: self-pitying, trapped by his desires, vowing (and failing) to give up porn. No visual similarity, though; Matt’s miniaturist bigfoot cartooning is worlds away from Passmore’s Brandon Graham / Guy Davis fantasy style. Below, a sample of Matt’s ruminations about his “obsession with pornography,” from September 27, 1988’s single-page strip:
In Matt’s autobiographical comics, Joe’s doubts vanishes when he breaks up with his girlfriend Trish (the “she” in the above excerpt) and fully succumbs to spending his days masturbating and editing together VHS compilations of favorite moments from X-rated films. I’m not sure what Passmore plans for Ben—just as I’m not sure if the character is named “Ben” because he’s a stand-in for Passmore’s own experiences with commodified, objectified images of women—but I don’t think Ben will end up as cloistered and focused on porn as Joe. The apocalypse will give Ben too much to talk about and too much else to do.
Still, it’s provocative that the central social issue addressed in Daygloayhole is porn. Your Black Friend was easy for us progressive comics scholars to like: we had a talented new cartoonist and diverse voice to celebrate, and we could all agree that Passmore did a wonderful job identifying the racist sickness at the heart of American white culture. But what do we make of Ben and his obsession with porn? And Daygloayhole’s wholesale embrace of genre? My sense is that Daygloayhole is flying under the radar because it fits less neatly into current academic emphases on racial representation and social activism, but I still find it thrilling to watch this prodigiously talented artist digest his influences and pour everything he knows and loves into his cartooning.
Craig Fischer is Professor of English at Appalachian State University.