Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 10

Blue

by Pat Grant
Genre notes: bildungsroman, immigration, racism
96 page
ISBN: 160309153X (Amazon)

In Blue, Pat Grant allows the grown-up version of a surf rat named Christian to narrate the changes that have taken place over the fifteen years since a new kind of foreigner began trickling onto Northern Australian shores. It’s fascinating because Grant allows his protagonist to hold all manner of distasteful fears and opinions while simultaneously vindicating some of his protagonist’s views. It’s a delicate procedure, but I think it pays off. Greg Burgas was less sure and found Grant’s unwillingness to condemn his lead’s prejudices to make uncomfortable reading. I can see where Burgas is coming from, but I think that Grant’s book gives the reader an opportunity to explore not just Christian’s prejudices but their own as well.

In extended, almost book-length flashback (like Stand By Me in several ways), Grant introduces the book’s principal foreigners as blue-skinned, four-legged, alien-looking beings who propagate graffiti at alarming rates, have a different fashion sense, and are careless with their litter. Between the time of their arrival and the setting of Christian’s narration, the town of Bolton goes from a thriving town and 1989 Tidytown Winner to a broken down village entirely covered by graffiti and dominated by noodle shops, a favourite cultural food of the blue people (who are now the majority population).

And here’s the trick Grant plays on readers. In Christian’s view (and quite possibly from the view of Grant’s readers), the shift from Tidytown to Graffititown is a deeply negative experience—and proof that unchecked immigration is Bad. Where Blue offers the reader the opportunity to self-examine is in considering the same world from the vantage of the blue people. Grant is careful to humanize the foreigners through cues rooted even within Christian’s prejudiced narrative. We see the blue people’s attempts at assimilation and the loneliness in an orphaned blue child. Grant gives the blue people a mortality that mirrors the mortality of the native white Australian (we see a description of a dead body visualized as a non-foreigner, but when it is discovered to be a foreigner, it looks the same but is coloured blue).

So then, the question: in the view of the blue people, is the town better or worse than it was fifteen years ago? Plausibly, the blue people would say it’s better, more comfortable, and more in line with their cultural tastes. So who then is to say that the Tidytown version of Bolton was the better iteration? Whose culture gets to play arbiter? Grant makes it clear that adding new individuals to a society will alter culture within that society and that those comfortable within a society are going to suffer some measure of change.

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