Spaghetti rainbows. Rainbow spaghetti.
That’s what greets the reader on nearly every page of Jesse Jacob’s mind-blowing graphic novel, Crawl Space. Colors and shapes twirl and spin against black-and-white backgrounds or they fill every page with intricately detailed shapes and patterns. From the colors, bodies emerge and characters unfold.
In a book with little dialogue, the opening words of Jeanne-Claude — who, like the reader, has just been introduced to the bizarre world of the crawl space under friend Daisy’s house — signal that something strange and wonderful is going on here. Jeanne-Claude’s body is broken down into its rainbow spaghetti parts and then put back together again, still composed of spaghetti rainbows. Then, Jeanne-Claude speaks.
“I forgot I was me.”
“Why is it like this in here?” she asks Daisy. “Why is anything like anything anywhere?” Daisy replies.
Daisy and Jeanne-Claude live in a black-and-white world until Daisy discovers that the washer and dryer in her family’s basement lead to a magical and spiritual space beyond anything they have known before, a place where color is everywhere. It’s a place filled with exotic creatures that seem barely aware that they have visitors among them until a living teapot of ever-changing colors offers Jeanne-Claude a drink poured from his teapot head and the self that she had once forgotten shimmers and squirms into chaos and back again.
As they find their way back to “reality”, Daisy asks Jeanne-Claude to keep the secret of the crawl space. Jeanne-Claude, of course, tells the world. And who wouldn’t? Religious experiences are almost always told, nay, shouted from the rooftops, announced with the ringing of bells.
An unnamed narrator comments from time to time. (Or perhaps the words are excerpts from some New Age scripture.) The words talk of worlds beyond the physical and of how access to these worlds is usually “reserved for highly enlightened beings”. They also tell us that sometimes, “on rare occasions, lesser beings have been known to pass through the cosmic barrier.”
So it is that Daisy’s basement, and the crawl space that it mysteriously leads to, becomes filled with students woefully unprepared for what they are about to experience.
“Immerse yourself in the gentle waves of pulsing shapes and colors,” Daisy instructs them. “Experience a state of conscious deeper and more present than ever imagined.”
But the new visitors grab and push, chase and capture. The teapot, terrified, serves a dangerous drink. The creatures become demons.
There are moments when Crawl Space seems like a story about the benefits and dangers of mind-altering drugs. In this reading, Daisy is the responsible user (dealer?) who is the source for the students at her school. They, however, abuse what she is offering them and ruin what should be a wonderful thing.
In one scene, Daisy finds that her house has been taken over by her fellow students. Some are making out with one another, others are passed out on the furniture. Pizza, beer, and bongs litter the tables and the floor. Someone has sex in the washer. Someone throws up in the dryer.
But it soon becomes clear that something more is happening here, that Jacobs is telling a story about religion and faith, about the sacred and the profane.
“This is supposed to be a sacred space!” Jeanne-Claude announces as she enters the world of color to find everything broken, the teacup shattered into pieces, and monsters prowling a landscape of tree stumps and barrenness, of blackness and nothingness.
The narrator tells us that there are places where the walls between the worlds are thin, “that particularly pure and innocent beings possess the ability to isolate these sacred passageways.” We are warned that if we approach these other worlds with “impure and negative intentions, it can serve as a passage into a deep and endless chasm of terror.”
And so it does.
Jesse Jacobs has created a masterpiece with a book reminiscent of Edwin Abbott’s Flatland but offering so much more. Its vibrant and psychedelic imagery is itself evocative of the higher planes, itself a doorway, of sorts, to other worlds. To read it, to get lost in the rainbow spaghetti, the color explosions, the always changing shapes and forms, is to experience something unique, something other.
But at its heart, in the midst of all the colors and forms, Crawl Space is a story about Daisy. Her character, lightly drawn but always centered and true, is herself a source of wonder. She is a character so pure and awake that the reader is left to feel that it is Daisy herself who offers a connection to the beyond.
And that is a powerful message.
Jacobs takes on environmental destruction, the desecration of the sacred, the arrogance and selfishness that plague our politics and our world and offers up Daisy — a school girl with confidence and centeredness and truth — as the solution, as the doorway to something better and more true.