Turning an album into a graphic novel is a daunting task, even an album by an artist as who is as much a storyteller as a songwriter as Jonathan Coulton. But Matt Fraction and Albert Monteys have not only created a graphic novel that fully represents the album, but stands on its own as a complete story. It feels right that the graphic novel flows like an album, not a straightforward series of events.
In the future, people work all day building walls with the help of robots, taking supplements to prolong their life, but they don’t dream, don’t have wants, and simply upvote and downvote in place of emotions. But when worker Bob is struck on the head by a skeletal head in a helmet, his entire existence changes, showing how this future came to be, caused by another Bob in the past. The two Bobs’ stories connecting through dreams and visions adds to the concept, making it never entirely certain what is really happening and to which character.
While this isn’t exactly a new idea–a dystopian future caused by an evil corporation–the storytelling, writing, and art elevate it to something fresh and incredibly enjoyable. Fraction’s strengths are dialogue and relationships, and his real standout here is Future!Bob and his Robobuddy. The development of their bond all the way to the very end of the story made a great throughline.
It’s Albert Monteys’ art that really makes this story pop and brings out the humor and pathos of Fraction’s writing. His cartoonish style makes the characters almost instantly relatable and loveable:
Adding the visual language of emojis and the ubiquitous “buddy” into the dialogue was a smart way to create a society governed through social media.
My one complaint is that there are gaps in the story, mostly with Past!Bob. His girlfriend makes a point of leaving him after he releases the code, but then she’s back and they have a whole life together. Also, Booji did something to possibly destroy the Earth, or maybe it was something else and Booji is the last place standing, but we don’t know what or how. All in all, Future!Bob’s story felt more fully fleshed out than Past!Bob.
And while I overall loved the visual styling, the perfectly square pages giving it an interesting constraint to the pages, the way the panels were laid out was occasionally a little confusing. Panels that were meant to go together wasn’t always immediately evident.
Solid State is a book that begs for multiple readings, especially with the cyclical nature of the story, and I caught a lot more details on my second and even third reading. It was an incredibly engaging experience, and a one that I’ll be revisiting again.