By Lisa Fary
In the late summer of 2008, we started seeing black helicopters flying over our city with no explanation. We were anxious for the election while being completely paranoid that the election wouldn’t happen for some national emergency. The helicopters only intensified those paranoid thoughts and led us into dark conversations on our nightly walks. What would we do if we found ourselves in the hell of martial law, beat down by a malicious, organized power?
I liked to think that I’d take the road of dissent and rebellion, but in reality, I’d probably just keep my head down and do what was necessary to survive. I’m not proud of that.
The graphic novel, written by Adam Rapp and drawn by George O’Connor, is claustrophobically centered on two filthy rooms in a deteriorating city beaten down by war and plague. In one room is Welton and Aaron, a musician and a novelist. In the other is Exley and Horlick, an actress and an urchin.
There’s a shadowy group called the Syndicate that is performing some sort of ethnic cleansing and all of these characters are drawn into it. Not because they want to be. Not because they believe in the cause. But because they have no more resolve to fight. Just living in this environment is enough of a daily fight.
It’s frightening how easily they all do what’s expected, although it burns them to the bone. The characters continue to self-identify as artists and to create art as best they can. One can ask why, but it seems obvious: their art is all that’s left of their humanity.
I get the feeling that I’m intended to like Ball Peen Hammer because it’s, as stated on the cover, a “meditation on art and human nature,” a thought provoking discourse on what it means to be an artist at the end of the world.
I don’t feel quite right saying that I liked Ball Peen Hammer. It’s too dark and quietly horrific to constitute enjoyment in the same way I enjoy a David Lynch film. The best comparison that comes to mind is that I liked Ball Peen Hammer the way I liked the French horror film Martyrs: deeply disturbing, but I can’t look away from what it says about human nature.
Lisa Fary is a graduate of the creative writing program at Florida State University and holds an advanced degree in Special Education. Her earliest influences are Princess Leia, Rainbow Bright, Astronaut Barbie, and her 6th grade teacher, Ms. Palmer. She’s angry that it’s almost 2010 and she still doesn’t have a hovercraft, but will accept a jetpack as consolation. That jetpack had better be pink with a rhinestone monogram.