Blue – Pat Grant

3 out of 5

The reviews I’ve sampled for Pat Grant’s ‘Blue’ seem to fall in to two camps: blessing the way that Grant captured the feeling of growing up in Australia – surfing culture; slacker teen culture – and then those who seem a bit underwhelmed when trying to parse what messages Grant may have been trying to impart with his brief slice-of-life story of three youngsters cutting class.

I’d say I fall into the latter camp, but thanks to the extras that Pat packed into the book – a long text essay / history of Australian surf comics – I feel I can somewhat better appreciate the former mindset, and so was able to read ‘Blue’ with something of a “you had to be there” acceptance. Because it’s not just these three kids, it’s these three kids and the aliens that are starting to move in to their small town of Bolton, and the narrator – one of the three, flashing back on a day from his youth – talking about the faux commercial exterior of Bolton, laced with racism toward the aliens that have now taken over the town.

So there’s something here about commercialism, and Australian “identity,” mixed in to a Stand By Me-type tale (based on fact, though, according to Pat’s back of book essay) and visualized in a weird but appealing blend of Dave Cooper architecture and Jim Woodring symbolism and Fleisher-style character work, all swirled together in a particular fashion unique to Pat. But there’s really not much there about any of this, at least for an outsider who didn’t live in Bolton in the 80s. The three kids relate to one another in a realistically snotty way; we get a surface sense of the detachment between Bolton’s clean exterior and the grime beneath. But the story itself – which is rather brief, just one day of cut class which happens to be the first day the narrator sees one of these aliens – doesn’t dive in to this, as though Pat wanted to avoid imprinting any sense of opinion on the matter. Which is where the “you had to be there” comes in: if you were there, I suspect it brings up all the feelings Grant must’ve had (and which he touches on in the text piece) that prompted the work.

Otherwise, though, “Blue” is of interest for its artistry, and the surf comics history in its back is actually really cool, encouraging me to check out some of the work mentioned. The book gives me the faintest whiffs of what locals might be feeling, but I do imagine it works best if you have some real Australian-livin’ memories to match it to.