It’s my understanding that among connoisseurs of the truly obscure and “outre,” Isabel Reidy’s 2012 self-published mini 1-800-Kravlox is considered something of a modern-day classic, and it’s not hard to see why : wearing its absurdity and outlandishness plain as day on its sleeve, it calls into question just about everything with its amorphous, energetic illustration and sparse, precise scripting — including, in a very real sense, its own aims, purposes, even reasons for being. It exists on its own, entirely self-created, terms and forces readers to either meet it on those terms or shrug their shoulders and walk away. That’s refreshing in and of itself, sure — but it’s also important.
Ostensibly a treatise on the nature of desire “starring” what must be, at the very least, an alien (perhaps even inter-dimensional, if not outright demonic) phone sex operator, it deliberately undercuts its own arguments — whatever those may be — by making the would-be object of that desire monstrous, sickening, grotesque, and by extension confronts us either with our own abject superficiality or, perhaps, the fact that oftentimes what repulses us also attracts us, and vice-versa.
There’s something else going on here, though, as well, over and above the philosophically challenging subject matter — and that is an interesting formal exercise in pairing deft, carefully-chosen prose with “far out,” even disturbing imagery. Reidy is a skilled technician, to be sure, as well as a visionary (a term I use with specific intent) talent, and so passes this particular self-imposed “test” with flying colors, but where that leaves us at the end of the day is still, essentially, pondering the perhaps-unknowable in terms of deciphering what “turns our crank” and, crucially, why.
But answering those questions was never part of the artistic remit here — nor, frankly, should it be. Provocation for its own sake gets something of a bum rap these days, yet there are few higher aspirations for art to aim for — if you need something that tells you what to think, what to feel, how to process and experience its (in this case 10-page) contents, then there’s plenty of cut-and-dried stuff available for you at the comic shop, at the movie theater, on the television screen. Have at it. Some of us, however, are at the very least intrigued by — hell, some even demand — far less hand-holding, and Reidy’s comic is aimed squarely at them/us.
To that end, expect nothing so simple to absorb as a “narrative” here, and be prepared to thoroughly immerse yourself in the analytical and allegorical. Kravlox itself may not reflect “us” in the general sense, but it is of us, a by-product of our collective id’s most mysterious and unexplored corners, the ultimate end result of, at this point, millennia of “closeted” denial and avoidance. It is everything we don’t admit about ourselves to ourselves made flesh : a beast that, to paraphrase Anton LaVey, should be exercised rather than exorcised, and the thing that waits for us all when pretense, obfuscation, and looking in the other direction have finally run their course — and hit an immovable, unforgiving brick wall.
Poetic and fluid while also being cringe-inducing and frightening, 1-800-Kravlox is a comic — hell, a work of art in the more general sense — entirely unlike anything else and, as such, comes with this critic’s highest and most enthusiastic recommendation. Order one up for six bucks from (where else?) Domino Books at http://dominobooks.org/kravlox.html