Dark Dr. Seuss

(And, I thought my piece was entirely too on the nose for current times….)

So, I did not read carefully enough through the introduction for Hobo Lobo of Hamelin and, because of that, I was not aware until my second reading through that it was referencing/ inspired by the tale of the Pied Piper. After I was aware of that though, this piece really came together and I felt like I was better able to appreciate all of elements. And, let’s get into exactly why that is!

Upon first accessing this Elit piece, before I knew about its inspiration, I thought it was riffing on Dr. Seuss–twisting the aesthetic of Dr. Seuss and his picture books into something urban and dark. The illustrations used to guide readers through the piece just seem very reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s work. There are animals mingling with humanesque characters. Odd proportions. A picturesque environment. All distinctive elements of most of Dr. Seuss’s picture books. Mixed with the edgy tone and point-blank language of the story–which discussed “coked-up rats” and the dark underbelly of the bureaucratic/ “democratic” process–I was expecting re-imagined telling of a Dr. Seuss classic now with more cynicism and tricked out with moral dilemmas. No happy endings.

Hobo Lobo sure delivered all of that, riffing on the Dr. Seuss aesthetic or not.

The story here starts out in a rather traditional way. On page 1 (because, yes, we do have pages for navigation in this piece), which is divided into 7 short pages itself, we have our setting laid out and a conflict introduced. The quaint little hamlet of Hamelin is under “siege” by some coked-up rats–just in time for election season. Our dick mayor Dick Mayor (heavily inspired, it seems, by the concept of Big Brother) is freaking out cause he doesn’t know how to get rid of these rats. He consults a psychic who advises him to find the help of a professional, much to the mayor’s frustration. Throughout this whole exposition, illustrations depicting what is going on–with the rats, the mayor, etc.–float by along the top of the screen. And, they are continuous on each page. There are no page breaks. All of the mini-pages on each page bleed seamlessly into each other, an illusion emphasized by these illustrations flowing one into the next. You don’t even feel like you’re flipping pages. This kind of site-structure really creates a sense of a cinematic experience for readers. And, when you do go to the next page and the illustrations do change to a new setting, it’s like a cut-scene.

Anyway, flipping to page 2 introduces us to our protagonist-of-sorts–a stranger from a strange land rolling into town. And, look at that! This stranger’s–Hobo Lobo’s–is just what the mayor ordered. Hobo Lobo is a jack-of-all trades, a real Renaissance wolf. You got a problem, he can solve it–within reason of course. One of the illustrations depicts a scene where a boy brings their dead fish to Hobo Lobo who can only shake his wolfy head, unable to fix this particular problem. This is where I would differentiation between Dr. Seuss and Stevan Živadinovic (Hobo Lobo‘s creator). I mean, there are obviously many different between the 2 artists and their illustration styles. When I talk about differentiating between the 2, I’m referencing the manner in which the artists present themes. I think that Živadinovic is less subtle with the presentation and, I think because of the medium and content he’s working with, he doesn’t have to be as subtle. He’s not specifically writing for an audience of children. As evidenced purely by the language being used, Hobo Lobo is clearly directed towards an older audience and so more mature themes can be more explicitly expressed.

Continuing, Dick Mayor tasks Hobo Lobo with ridding Hamelin of its rat infestation–for a hefty sum of treasure. Hobo Lobo accepts under the pretense of being paid for his service. The next page of this piece is possibly the most interesting of all of them and so explicitly a reference to the tale of the Pied Piper that I can’t believe I didn’t realize it on my first read-through. Page 3 opens without any words accompanying the illustrations–as there have been up until this point. The lack of guiding words prompts turning the pages to see if you can figure out what’s going on. At around the 3rd or 4th page flip, crickets chirping give way to music–soft before it gets louder as you continue flipping the pages. Rats walking through the woods, ostensibly towards the source of the sound, are illustrated. On page 10, words appear again, posing the question of whether or not rats have wings? An image of a line of rats walking towards the edge of a cliff accompanies this question. The next page cuts the music to something more foreboding and adds a scythe to the illustration. Then, we have this odd collage of animated images that I am not sure what to make of (so, I can’t wait to hear what Katherine has to say on Tuesday night about them).

Anyway, the reference to the tale of the Pied Piper was very clear here–the rats being led to their demise by the hypnotic sound of music (a fiddle and an accordion? instead of a pipe in this case). In my recollection of the tale, I thought the rats were drowned but according to a quick Google search, there are many variations of this tale so the cliff interpretation here is perfectly within reason. I also think it references that idiom, “when pigs fly.” Even though it’s rats, we do get an image of a pig on a silver platter being chased by a chef on one of the min-pages.

After Hobo Lobo deals with the rat problem, Dick Mayor gets re-elected as dick mayor of Hamelin. He, of course, promptly takes credit for ridding the town of its rat infestation. We get a lot of animated images on page 4 that mimic TV sets flickering and lighting up. And, the content of these images seems to be making fun of mainstream media news outlets and their penchant for “stirring the pot” and for reaffirming the images of certain people, like the mayor, as being gold standards of behavior who can do nothing reprehensible. Or, at the very least, mainstream media is not keen to call out public figures for their reprehensible actions even when those actions are and news outlets should. Hobo Lobo watches this all go down, his reflection in the TV screens mimicking my own reflection in my computer screen.

On the next page, Hobo Lobo tries to get recompense for his services–it does not go well. Essentially, the mayor asserts that he saved Hamelin and that Hobo Lobo is a usurper. The animation here on the illustrations zooms in on the mayor’s dick face, turning red as it really focuses on how bulbous the mayor’s dick head is. This emphasized focal point and colour change really communicates a sense of anger.

On the next to last page, we see Hobo Lobo losing his case in court against the mayor–no written agreement = no court in the world will side with you. Got to love the legal process. It’s really there for the little man. The illustrations fade into a radio show broadcast the mayor is doing in which he frames everything he says in his favor and avoids any questions that actually seek a real answer.Dick Mayor is sure to emphasize that all his actions have the people of Hamelin in mind. He only wants to see that Hamelin remains a great place. The radio show hosts decides its time to take some questions from the audience here and the 1st question is about the safety of the children of Hamelin. Dick Mayor reassures the caller that all the children of Hamelin will be safe because they are kept in the mayor’s prayers. He prays for their future, one free from the burdens of “the debts of the mooching class.” Hobo Lobo, who had been listening to this broadcast, kicks the radio, breaking it.

The last page of this Elit piece is a direct reference to the tale of the Pied Piper. Because the mayor did not pay his debts, Hobo Lobo led all the children out of Hamelin and trapped them in a cave. Lesson learned, right Mr. Mayor? The animation on this last page is that of a steady stream of children, illustrated as if playing and having a grand ol’ time. Slowly but surely they slide across 1, 2, 3 pages, disappearing into the open mouth of a cave. Hobo Lobo’s wolfy shadow can be seen. Demon-like creature pull and prod at the rock above the entrance to the cave. Once all the children are inside, Hobo Lob’s shadow disappears and the demons disappear too, the rock they were prodding finally falling in place, trapping the kids inside. The last mini-page of this page depicts Hobo Lobo covering his face, obviously ashamed and begrieved by what he had to do. Possibly exhausted as well.

Overall, I think Hobo Lobo of Hamelin is interesting re-imagining of the typical storybook tale. And, it is fascinating to see how the pop-up book medium can be articulated in an electronic space. Despite none of the illustrations being able to physically enter your space, the use of animation is still able to communicate that sense of the story entering your personal at times. Also, there is the added element of sound to this piece which I also think helps this piece enter your personal space. Hobo Lobo is a very creative exploration of the power of sound and animation to create a very visceral reading experience when no physical elements exist.