The Picture of Everything Else #1
As the 20th century dawns, art promises to change the world…and steep it in blood. A rash of impossible killings sweeps through Paris, tearing the rich and beautiful apart in their beds. When two art thieves stumble upon the portraits of the victims damaged in the exact same manner they died, it appears the man who once painted the immortal portrait of Dorian Gray has returned—with darker plans for future works.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is famously the story of a beautiful young man whose moral corruption takes place on canvas rather than in life. Meanwhile, The Picture of Everything Else focuses on – well – everything else. More specifically, the comic focuses on Basil Hallward – the painter of the infamous portrait. (Understandably, Watters takes liberties with the original novel.) The comic’s main characters Marcel and Alphonse are struggling artists/art thieves who accidentally stumble onto a string of violent murders. At the center of it all lies Basil – painting beautiful men only to kill them by destroying their portraits. “There was love in every line, and in every touch there was passion” says Basil of the portrait in Dorian Gray, and the same might be said of Watters’ writing in The Picture of Everything Else. Drenched in alcohol, viscera, and homoerotic longing, it feels like an ode – and loving vivisection – of 19th century aestheticism and Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel specifically. If the recent drama plaguing art circles has involved questions about the legitimacy of digital art, the turn of the 20th century faced a similar dilemma – one which Everything Else focuses on – traditional art, including portraiture, falling out of favor with the rise of photography. Watters also questions what happens when artists put too much of themselves into their art, and whether artists shape the world are or shaped by it. What does it mean to treat one’s life as art?
While it’s certainly an “ideas book,” The Picture of Everything Else is also a nightmarish and passionate thrill ride. Looking past its obvious literary inspiration, the plot is reminiscent of the manga/anime Death Note, the serial killer in this case killing via painting and destroying portraits rather than a writing names in a book. The gory paintings are also reminiscent of the 19th-century-set art-themed horror video game Layers of Fear. This sounds like a weird mix, but it works marvelously.
Sadly, the book has a couple of setbacks. Watters’ plot unquestionably embraces the homoeroticism of Oscar Wilde and of Dorian Gray (with an uncensored version of the text only becoming published in 2011 – nearly 200 years after the novel). However, it’s a tad disappointing that the first issue’s kiss (between Marcel and Alphonse), while gay, is also drunken and unreciprocated, making consent iffy. While the book’s focus seems squarely on unrequited love, hopefully Watters’ gay characters are allowed future moments of passion that are a bit less fraught.
The depiction of an older Basil – here a serial killer – as disabled and the choice of the author to include the word “cr*pple” may leave a bad taste in the mouth for disabled readers like myself. The horror genre is regrettably rife with ableism and disabled villains in general are upsettingly common, as is the conflation of physical impairment with moral failure. The use of the cr-slur may fly over the heads of non-disabled readers, or be lazily excused as “historically accurate,” but it is nonetheless jarring. Watters may be simply picking up on Wilde’s own conceit in The Picture of Dorian Gray, but it would be nice to see the conventional depiction of physical impairment as a sign of moral failure challenged rather than reinforced.
Bearing in mind Wilde’s claim in the preface of Dorian Gray that “All art is quite useless,” it may be tempting to set aside the analysis of Watters’s writing and focus solely on Kishore Mohan’s art. It’s gorgeous. Rich golds and reds dominate Mohan’s watercolor and acrylic work and fill the book with warmth. Saturated with lamplight, every hour seems like golden hour. While the plot is often dominated by blood and fire, Mohan’s warm palette also echoes the overwhelmingly passionate mood. While faces aren’t always consistent, their expressiveness – wistfulness, tenderness, terror– is wonderful. The drunken, gay disaster Alphonse resembles Wilde, which is delightful, and reinforces this book’s metafictional slant.
The cover (also by Mohan) is a wonderful exterior reflection of the book’s guts: the logo and border take nods from Belle Époque typography and design, while the bloodied hands hemming in the artist and eviscerating the canvas ooze atmosphere.
The Picture of Everything Else #1 is an artistic tour de force soaked in blood, booze, terror, and homoerotic longing. Ending on a chilling cliffhanger, this is certainly a book worth keeping up with.
The Picture of Everything Else #1: Painting the Town Red
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 8/108/10
Art - 10/1010/10
Color - 10/1010/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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