One of the biggest benefits to comics is the ability to tell a story completely through pictures. Few artists take as much advantage of this aspect as Thomas Ott.
One of the biggest benefits to comics is the ability to tell a story completely through pictures. Few artists take as much advantage of this aspect as Thomas Ott. Born in Berne, Ott produces black and white scratchboard comix which use virtually no dialogue or captions. Instead, Ott tells his stories strictly through the art and the character’s silent interactions. This actually requires the reader to invest more of themselves into the narrative rather then simply allowing the story to play out before them.
In The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 (henceforth referred to as “The Number.”), Ott produces a short novel of horror that delivers on the promise seen in his previous short stories. A prison executioner finds a piece of paper that a prisoner has left after been electrocuted. Curious, he stuffs the number into his pocket and then undergoes a series of events tied to the numbers that change his luck from good to bad to worst.
The plot itself is nothing new and, for most horror fans, will even seem a little predictable. What makes The Number unique is what Ott does with the story and the way he allows it to unfold. In many ways, the pacing and staging is reminiscent of the silent German cinema and particularly of Fritz Lang (M, Metropolis). Ott’s intricate art style is perfectly suited to this type of story. It manages to invoke many ranges of emotion from hope to fear to anger. The reader may not be entirely sure what has happened to the main character but can still follow the narrative to its expected and fulfilling conclusion.
The circular nature of the Numbers is mirrored in the overall circular plot that brings the reader back to the beginning. Is Ott making a comment about the circular nature of our own lives? Or even how our lives are controlled by arbitrary factors that, for the most part, we are unaware of? By finding the number, has the Executioner stumbled onto one of the secret foundations of the universe and is punished for it? Would the same incidents had occurred if the Executioner not found the Number or is it only the knowledge of it that enables him to notice the patterns that make up the universe? These are interesting questions which Ott allows the reader to consider without providing a clear answer.
Ott is characteristically dark in this novel. Hope is followed quickly by despair and anger. There are no winners in this story unless one counts the Number itself as a character. At the end, only the Number is unchanged and a winner. Like life, the events in the plot are unfair and there is no really explanation for why that it is so.
This isn’t a book for superhero fans and it’s unlikely that any would be attracted to it in the first place. It is a wonderfully crafted horror story that moves along briskly to the end but which lingers in the reader’s mind for much longer.