The Celluloid Eye
I, Paparazzi, the new hardcover graphic novel by Pat McGreal, Steven John Phillips and Stephen Parke is a book that is likely to be overlooked by the average reader particularly when confronted with the hefty $29.95 price tag—unfortunate, because it is a book that really deserves to be read, enjoyed, and talked about.
The plot, like most good books, is simple and basic at its foundation. Its primarily focuses on a day in the life of a celebrity photographer and his strange and unusual adventures. The main character, Jake “Monster” McGowran, is one of the toughest, meanest and most stubborn of the paparazzi. After snapping some pix of a hot young celebrity beating up one of his fellow photogs, Monster is himself beaten by the celeb’s bodyguards and vows revenge. Thus begins the adventure—and also a very interesting commentary on reality, our perceptions, and the nature of existence itself.
I, Paparazzi has a lot to say about the nature of reality and the way in which we perceive it. Is there a true reality, or do we create it as we see and experience it? In the last pages, Monster’s former colleagues describe instances in which they perceived the worst of him that each time actually had a rational and normal explanation. What is the truth? The perception of the event or the actions behind the event itself? As the Monster stumbles through a surreal celebrity party, he experiences several conspiracies that are virtually identical to the ones a fellow photog described to him earlier in the night. Are those conspiracies real? Or are they ‘shadow’ conspiracies, constructed to keep the Monster from the one, real truth—or, are they being concocted by the Monster who is seeing everything through the eyes of a concussion? It is an interesting question and one that begs further debate and discussion. Philosophers have agonized over this concept for centuries without ever coming to an answer. One of the more recent schools of literary criticism, deconstructionism, held that it was the reader who creates a book during the act of reading it and that the actual intentions of the writer were secondary. It is saying that we create the world around us by the way in which we perceive it and that there is no absolute truth because these perceptions change from person to person and from moment to moment. Perhaps the only reason gravity exists is because we have all been trained to believe that it does. Maybe if everybody around the world agreed to not believe in gravity all at once, then we would all just float away into the stars. Monster has created his own ‘myth’ or reality about himself among his peers to the point where the ‘myth’ and the truth are one and the same.
Adding to this escaping sense of realism is the method in which this story is told. Not only does the narration jump about to various points of the night (tying most of it up by the end), but the book is made up of photographs rather than the usual artwork we’ve come to expect in graphic novels. It adds another layer of ‘reality’ to a story that already raises plenty of these questions. The photographs are done in a fitting style, mirroring the inner turmoil of the story and also making it instantly recognizable to the reader.
The Vertigo publishing imprint is to be commended for taking the risk of publishing this book which, due to the format, is not likely to be a huge commercial success. It should be read and studied because it truly is a work that proves the legitimacy and intelligence of this graphic novel field and that serious art can be created here. We only need to seek it out—but, then again, maybe that is all only a reflection of my own perception of reality and such great works are all around us. Or not.