My best description of “Hobo Lobo of Hamelin” would be as an interactive fable… set up almost like a storyboard, with the scenes as static animated images, moving from one point in the story to another. The creator, Steve Nivadinovic, says it’s meant to “do its own thing”.. He also points out that it’s meant to diverge from comic book artistry but there is a lot of that here. One notable aspect of his introduction is the mention of French moviemaker, Jacques Tati. I had never heard of Tati so I checked out a clip from one of his films, Playtime. It seems like the crux of his films is kind of a sight gag comedy that gets a lot of its fuel from how the average man interacts with the “modern” world. It’s kind of an absurdist comedy in a way. The creator says he drew inspiration from Tati’s ethos. I can see the correlation, as he juxtaposes a common man (the wolf) with the ways of the modern world (politics and technology) that he doesn’t seem equipped to handle.
“Hobo Lobo” was also, to me, a political satire. He chooses not to put it in any particular time or place (the idea that it’s “long ago” seems undermined when we get to the parts about modern communications). I think that helps him push a universal message about how the little guy ultimately gets screwed by the system. I love the way the art progresses across the screen from right to left, set almost as 3D static images so that you get the illusion of depth. Steve seems to work to draw your eye to the characters he wants you to see first by using color to make characters (even messages) stand out. It unfolds initially just the like the fable of the Pied Piper: there are a ton of rats, someone’s got to get them out of town, and a stranger ultimately stumbles onto the scene and takes care of it. But there are modern elements almost immediately. You see a gun in the princess’ basket in one of the first scenes, along with one of the rat kids carrying an IKEA box. Again, it seems like the author is trying to unmoor this story from a particular time or place, or even era. Or maybe he’s making the point that it is as it has always been – that no good deed ever goes unpunished. In fact, I only remembered the beginning of the legend of the Pied Piper and went back to read it. I had not remembered that most versions have the mayor of the town reneging on his promise to pay the piper and the piper leading the kids out of town to either die or drown (in most versions of the story). So this leads me back to the idea that Steve is trying to show parallels to our time, or to any time in history. I think it’s interesting that the rat kids are the same size as the regular kids. Maybe it’s to humanize the rats? Or to show that driving out the least desirable members of society doesn’t necessarily mean that they are actual rodents. In some cases, they can just be dehumanized in a way that makes society or the people in charge portray them as someone on the level of a rat. The green sky and giant moon point to an ominous turn as we reach the end of the the first act and the mayor offers an “insurmountable mountain of treasure”. We don’t get sound until the third act – and an option to control the volume which was a nice feature. I love the way this is set up. I found an interesting element to the way you can view it. While starting on page 1, you can click on page 17 and watch the entire scene roll by in a way that reminds me of a mural on giant rollers. Ah! I just made a discovery. In looking up murals on rollers, I stumbled upon an art technique called “Trompe l’oeil” – a type of art that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that depicted objects are actually existing in three dimensions. I think that is a very big part of the appeal of “Hobo Lobo” – and is a good description of how he is trying to depict his story. The way the audio in this scene gives way from peaceful crickets and the harmonica to the dark tone and bright reds of some bizarre imagery definitely heightens the urgency. I watched this scene back and forth a few times. So the sickle definitely portends death – and he talks about seeing if rats have wings. Everything after that seems to be imagery of modern life or modern luxury (packaged food, tailored clothes, etc) – and even a little nod to the absurdity of American life perhaps by showing the topless Statue of Liberty.
At this point, we get into the political satire or allegorical aspect of this story. The mayor (Mayor Dick – not very subtle ha ha) takes the place of the “government” and we get introduced to the Fourth Estate channel – the logo of which is modeled on Fox News and the “reporter” is dressed as a jester or clown. And the donkey guest symbolizes the Democratic liberal. Interesting that the mayor does =not= have the support of the Fourth Estate conservatives – I would have thought they’d love “law and order” types like him… When Lobo approaches the mayor, we see more symbolism – him naked, getting a statue made (I thought of the story of the Emperor wearing no clothes…) And of course, just as it is in the legend, Lobo gets tossed and plots his revenge. As we get into that piece, I want to note that there is something very Pink Floyd-esque in a lot of this art and it reminds me very much of The Wall. Not only do we have the judges with their curls, but the anchor for the Fourth Estate, looks like he came right out of the movie. I stared at his face for several minutes to see if I could make out other body parts or faces drawn into his eyes and nose. (Maybe he’s got two faces? Could that be it?)
We can tell through his conversation that the mayor is adept at using the institutions of power against the little guy – Hobo is turned away because he doesn’t have a properly executed contract and loses in the court of public opinion because the mayor can turn the conversation into a defense of the town’s children. He is the personification of the evil politician – knowing all the ways to get over on people, without any of the guilt. I love the last scene where Hobo gets his revenge – the music is kind of happy as it begins and you hear the kids’ laughter. But as they get closer to the cave (where you can see Hobo’s shadow on the wall), the violin gets added and it seems a little sadder and the laughter fades. You see demons appear and when it all ends and they manage to pull the big rock down, Hobo is there looking upset and exhausted. What more could be to come (as the story promises)? I guess some sort of revelation about the fate of the kids.
This was a very beautifully done story. It is interactive and is interesting in the sense that it has a clear direction for the narrative, but the reader is not only allowed to go backward and forward, but to jump to any point in the narrative at any time. As I’ve pointed out, there a lot of little commentaries, either in text or imagery, on the absurdity of the common man’s juxtaposition to the powers that be, but the creator does a good job weaving modern times and a very old legend into one story. it doesn’t quite feel like a retelling as much as it does a telling of the original story with a modern twist. The creator makes great use of sound, using it sparingly and only to set the mood. He could have made the text of the conversations into audio, but left it as text which I think allows the reader to use their imagination (and also substitute whatever their least favorite politician is for the mayor). I read somewhere when looking into this project that it was described as a “webtime” story and I can definitely see that. It has the simplicity of a bedtime story and the moral (don’t screw people over) and of course, the web aspect. One of the other interesting aspects of this story is all the links. Stevan obviously wants you to know how he made this (even if, as he says, he’s not sure exactly why he did it). By clicking the upper left corner, you go to a page that lays out his timetable and even explains exactly where he got the code (both so people understand his process and so others can follows his footsteps, I’m assuming). I also found it fascinating that he created social media accounts for his characters – on Tumblr and Twitter. Hobo even has a Facebook page. Stevan also always has a link to his own resume page (under Psss) making it easy for anyone who likes it to learn more about him, or, I assume, hire him. It seems clear to me that the creator wants these characters to live on in cyberspace and, as he promises, a future installment of his art.