It has been over a year since Wallowing unleashed their debut record upon the unwitting denizens of Earth. It would be fair to say we see the world a little differently in this current pandemic era than when Planet Loss was first released. A global crisis has shaken our very foundations as humanity, and dystopian fiction only gains relevance each passing day. Listening to a band who conjure such aesthetics seems almost the truest way of being for those who can withstand the punishment.
So, as the insidious reaper of coronavirus scythes its way through society there are some who feel a distraction from the horror is exceedingly welcome. Wallowing are a collective of creatives, led by founder and guitarist Tom Harrison, who decided music would be only one of their tools to infest themselves upon us. They have used the visual (and tactile, when printed) medium of the comic book to further explore a universe of their unique creation they have named the ‘wobbleverse’.
This graphic novella is a conglomeration of lyrics from Planet Loss (like the album, the comic is split into chapters) and artwork by Luke Oram, who first worked with Tom on the album cover when the band was in its infancy. In it we are introduced to a world much like our own. A place where injustice is rife, and oppression is part of the very mechanism of society. We follow one man as he navigates the physical and mental landscapes of a ruined populace. The captioned lyrics are used as an inner voice as well as a commentary of the situation viewed by desperate masses. The somewhat allegorical juxtaposition of narrative text and image creates a slightly off kilter rhythm that marries well with the dissonant music it is twinned to, as well as lending another layer of disquiet. It is clear the artist is familiar with the history of science-fiction artwork, giving panels theme and composition that wouldn’t look out of place on the cover of an Asimov or Heinlein 1960s paperback. The concepts of the antagonists have a wit about them, from the giant crocodile and pig alien overlords to the rickety looking malignant slave-driving robots. It is fantastical enough to be a comfortable distance removed from our own reality, yet still, as science-fiction should, reflects enough of our world to be engaging. Although the use of the digital medium in colouration gives a contemporary caste, the washed-out colour palette speaks of a bygone era of fantasy comics. Personally I would have liked a little more contrast, the drama could have been increased with those bright colours occasionally emerging out of a deeper darkness, but that is just personal taste. There is a simplicity to the layouts and panelling that reminds me of some of Frank Miller‘s work as well as the wavy line work and colouring. There are a lot of other literary and film references that spring to my mind, such as the books of Dune to the comics of 2000AD and Valerian and film classics like Forbidden Planet.
Within the pages we see a brave protagonist who dons the band’s live attire of a beekeeping suit, what the band would refer to as the ‘wobblenaut’ (reminiscent of Sleep’s ‘Dragonaut’ where the lyrics and album art create a similar, if more psychedelic, sandy space realm). This is one of the icons of the Wallowing language – a language more complex and wide ranging than most bands of today, and evoking classic prog-rock concept groups of an era compatible with the sci-fi this graphic novella takes many cues from. Their concept is enviably fully realised and coherently executed, and thus all the more powerful. It is something geeks like myself will lap up, especially the collector types; they have already brought out an action figure and a limited tape so this is the latest, most ambitious, part of the Wallowing output. There will now inevitably be an expectant wait for the next musical offering from the band and whatever themes and idiosyncrasies they come up with to go with it. I expect whatever it is will be something more than just another noisy doom record.
As we move into the spring of 2021 there is an optimism that it won’t be long until we are able to experience the live performances of bands once more and reading this comic book leaves me, as someone who has yet to witness Wallowing live, hungry to see them as soon as is made possible by our current mutant overlords. Until then, stay strong comrades – to the coming revolution!
The Planet Loss novella is sold out via Wallowing’s own page, but you can still order copies here.
Words: James Thomas