In a 1941 episode of George Herriman's daily comic strip, Krazy Kat, the moon appears with a circle around it. Officer Pup, the authority figure, speaks to Krazy Kat, "Nice Circle around l'il old moon tonight, eh, "K"? But Krazy, looking up, sees a triangle. Ignatz, the brick throwing mouse, sees a square. Each character intones his version of events, in a not-quite confrontational discourse, never exactly grasping that the others are seeing something different. In the last panel, the moon is drawn with all three shapes around it, and the moon-gazing characters have settled down together, leaning on a log, each content with their own personal vision. A stated inspiration for Tanya Read's Mr. Nobody, Herriman drew Krazy Kat through the 1920's, 30's and 40's. Circling around the rather unremarkable personality of his protagonist, Herriman invoked philosophical abstractions and self-referential art jokes that illuminated the delusions and disconnections of the human condition with a tender and pointed humour. Read's Mr. Nobody is a similar cipher for the everyman. Blanker than Krazy Kat, with smoother edges and even less to say for himself, Tanya Read's Mr. Nobody is a new breed of stand-in for humanity, designed to serve us here and now at the turn of another century.
I have been following this enigmatic, cat-like fellow since 1999. I've seen him lose his arms and lose his head, fall off a flight of stairs, materialise in three dimensions to travel around town, hang out with visiting art mascots from other lands, and morph into a gigantic empty-headed, sphink-like cardboard robot. All the while he remains implacable, too naive to register that his adventures are in any way remarkable.
Recently, Mr. Nobody has acquired an Ignatz mouse, a yin for his yang, the perfect foil. In the film "Juggernaut", a monstrous ball appears with dots that might be eyes, mouth, snout or belly but never quite resolve into form, an indominatable abstraction that rolls over Mr. Nobody and leaves him flat and blinking. A juggernaut according to my dictionary, is "a terrible force, one that destroys, and demands self-sacrifice." Does Mr. Nobody even realise that he is giving himself up? If you know nothing about the context or implications of your actions, can you be a useful martyr? The world that Mr. Nobody inhabits is vaguely familiar. He dons abstracted American flags and capes, but remains bowled over by incomprehensible forces. It's tempting to push the Nobody story into a metaphor for Canadian identity crisis, but that would be going too far. Read keeps the visual language of Mr. Nobody's world sparse, pared down to iconic essentials that may remind us of content, but remain mostly blank, allowing the viewers to fill in their own haunting tales of day-to-day alienation. We swing between the silly/sad pathos of identifying, to detached meta-levels of humourous abstraction as we catch on to the visual puns and gags. In the super 8 film "In the Hole", Mr. Nobody rises slowly up out of a grey puddle-like shape, his eyes, as usual, two staring empty ovals. Black round dots start to fall down from the sky, like demented weather: black snow or big round rain. The circles cascade in a steady stream, some of them falling before Mr. Nobody's eyes and making temporary pupils as they pass. We glimpse moments of agency, as the eyes appear to focus fleetingly; up and down, here and there. But it is all an illusion. These are just dots, after all, and as they fall, they pile up into a dense black mass that overcomes our fellow and buries him, leaving just the empty holes of his white, pupil-less eyes slowly blinking out at us from the gloom.