Blue by Pat Grant is a story about us vs them. The story takes place in a seaside Australian town and is narrated by an older man who is recalling the “good old days” when there were no blue people in town. The blue people look different from you and me: they have many legs, their skin is blue, they eat weird food. I think you can see where this is going.
Blue as a metaphor isn’t a very complicated one. Pat Grant set out to tell a fairly common story. It’s so common, it’s the plot of a movie I’m sure you’ve all heard about: Stand By Me, based on the Stephen King story “The Body.” Grant actually had something very similar happen to him as a kid and he decided to include it as an important part of this comic as well. Even as I was reading it, it felt more like an homage than a ripoff, especially since the overarching themes are so different in Stand By Me and Blue.
Something else that makes Blue stand apart for me is the fact that the narrator is not sympathetic at all. When he tells his story about being a kid in this town right around the time it started going bad, you can see that he absolutely didn’t learn anything from what he witnessed on the day Blue takes place. He is completely blind to everything around him. We can forgive him for this when he is a child, but when the art reverts back to the present and we see his adult self, no more mature than he was as a teenager, you know that he hasn’t really grown up at all.
The art in Blue might be off-putting for some people, but I was so reminded of the cartoons I grew up watching as a kid, like Rocco’s Modern Life. The shapes of the characters and the buildings, plus the emphasis on the crude and the gross, reminded was reminiscent that style of 90s cartoons that were at once disgusting and interesting to look at. The crudeness suits the characters and it’s in such contrast to the absolutely stunning, surreal backgrounds that Grant includes. The comic is colored entirely in blue and tan, which is visually interesting and also lovely.
There is an essay at the end of the book that is at once interesting and unnecessary. It didn’t complete this comic for me in any way, but I enjoyed reading it and it did shed some light on why Grant wrote Blue. I didn’t need the why, but I appreciated it. There is a moment towards the end of the comic that felt particularly relevant to Blue, though:
Part of life when you live at the arse end of the world is that your story never seems to intersect with the grand narratives. Bigger histories from more populous places quickly morph into mythologies, but the smaller stories on the fringes are often nudged out of the collective consciousness and lost forever.
Blue feels at once wholly specific to a place and universal. There are bigger histories about outsiders and insiders, about immigration, about new communities versus old, but the fictional town in Blue is simply a microcosm of all of that and it becomes a part of the bigger history and the grand narrative.
I didn’t think I had a lot to say about Blue. It’s an unassuming comic that seems simple on the surface, but it’s rich, layered, and interesting. The story is simple and classic, but the characters, the setting, and the art make it into a much deeper exploration of identity, as a person, a town, and a culture, even at the expense of others.