That’s a lotta polybags!


Written by Charles Meier

Depending on how it’s used, plastic can be either the most useful or the most stupid of our inventions as a species.  It’s light, cheap, easy to fabricate, and you can drop it without getting razor-sharp, often nigh-invisible slivers all over the place.  It’s like glass’ superhero cousin.  I can’t think of a single other substance that can and does take so many forms, and has so many uses.  That said, however, it’s made out of poison and takes something just shy of a geological era to naturally degrade or decompose.  This is, of course, all well and good when making things you want to last a long time and don’t plan to stick in your mouth or set on fire anytime soon.

Odd, then, that plastic is so often used in a disposable context, frequently for the purposes of storing foodstuffs.  Now, I’m not one of those body-purity weirdos who thinks I’m going to sprout tumors and die at any moment just because I’ve been known to slug back the odd bottle of soda or stretch cling-film over the remnants of a Thanksgiving dinner.  I imagine there is something to such claims, but such effects would be cumulative in the extreme, and I’ve put too many more immediately worrisome substances in my body to lose sleep over pop-bottle residue.

What I will argue, however, is the utter absurdity of making something that’s intended to be used once and thrown away out of a substance that won’t voluntarily break down into its component parts until well after everyone on earth dies of old age a hundred times over.  Not, of course, that immediate disposal is the only option.  Plenty of people repurpose such items, though not nearly enough, and anyway it leaves the central problem unsolved.  There’s recycling of course, but it’s often cost-ineffective and inconsistently implemented.  Recycling is one of those solutions that needed to be put in place much earlier and much more widely to be truly effective.  Which, of course, didn’t happen.

And the result?  Literally more plastic than we know what to do with.  Running low on landfill space and lacking the funds, resources, or political will for a sustained, enforced collection and recycling effort, the governments of the world opt to the standard “out of sight, out of mind” approach.  Just gather up as much of the shit as you can, load it onto barges, float it out to some deep part of the ocean and let it drop.  Problem solved, right?

Of course not, you idiot.  Instead of a localized, semi-manageable problem, we now have a splayed-out, irrecoverable, more immediately ecologically disastrous problem in the form of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Forming around ocean currents like hair around a bathtub sink, the plastic bottles of the world find an immediate resting place in the form of a loose, imperishable pseudo-landmass.  “Never To Fade Away From The Earth”, or whatever that is in Latin, would make a great national motto.  While there’s little agreement on the exact size of this dump, the fact remains it’s pretty big, even if we only take the stuff floating on the surface into account.  Let’s not forget either that it’s diffuse and amorphous, the currents providing the only rough boundaries.  So diffuse, in fact, that the debris forming the dump likely seldom, if ever, forms into the solid atolls that fire the modern imagination.

Which is a damn shame, as it’s one hell of an image.  Just look what these two guys did with it.This week, Image Comics brings us Great Pacific, a new series from writer Joe Harris and artist Martin Morazzo.  Right from the start, this book promises a modern, if somewhat nihilistic take on the classic “deserted island castaway” story, as popularized by Robinson Crusoe and that one Tom Hanks movie with the volleyball.  The difference is, Chas Worthington III finds himself marooned not upon a verdant, banana-glutted paradise teeming with colorful parrots, but rather an uninhabitable trash-heap, with only the occasional two-headed seagull for company and/or sustenance.  It’s like every episode of Hoarders piled in one place, fused together with runny cat-shit and dumped in the middle of the ocean.  That’s probably selling that initial splash page short, however.  There’s a distinctly majestic feel to this pile of white elephant.  You can’t help but feel a twinge of delusional, wrongheaded pride at the sight, while still recognizing it as a problem.  Never mind architecture, landscaping, or civil engineering; we, as a species, have begun to make our own geography, out of something that truly will last forever no less.

After that breathtaking vista, Morazzo’s art turns out to be fond of the sweeping gesture.  Panels frequently stretch the width of the page, and Morazzo’s sense of detail borders on the topographical, laboring over every wrinkle and pore.  As a trade-off, however, his anatomy and expression is stiff and a bit lifeless.  Clearly this is a man whose comfort zone lies in landscape, and this predilection creeps in where it’s not always welcome or appropriate.

 “Stiff and lifeless” are somewhat less applicable epithets to Harris’ writing, though there’s very much room for improvement.  Harris, like most modern series writers, is perhaps a touch over-reliant on the “decompressed slow-burn” style of storytelling.  It’s clear getting a firm grip on Chas’ precise motivations is going to take some time, and my impression is that this is intentional.  Whatever they may be, it’s clear he’s willing to go an insanely long way to achieve them, to the point where you’re left wondering just how accidental his stranding on a giant pile of trash really is.  Still, the telegraphic and cliche-riddled dialogue prevents him (or any other character, for that matter) from becoming truly compelling.  And at the risk of sounding petty, the lettering is pretty lame, veering dangerously close to Comic Sans and ironically suiting the canned dialogue pretty well.

I don’t wish to make Great Pacific sound bad, at least not exactly.  It’s more a case of being slow out of the gate, as well as my own personal reservations judging by what I’ve seen of this book so far.  It’s clear this is a story meant to unspool over a great many issues–and at thirty-plus pages for $2.99, we’re talking a lot of issue–and while nothing in this premiere precludes the end result from greatness, nothing guarantees it either.  It does, however, seem to be dodging the bullet of comparisons to The Massive, apart from the broad strokes.  There’s potential for a good, even great story to be told here; I’m just worried Harris and Morazzo will mistake the style for the substance.

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