Comic review: Omni-Visibilis by Trondheim and Bonhomme
Script by Lewis Trondheim, Art by Matthieu Bonhomme
One science-fiction theme that is becoming more relevant in contemporary society is the paranoia thriller. One of the best exponents of this in the 1960s and 70s was the author Philip K Dick, most dramatically in his late novel A Scanner Darkly, and that idea of being constantly watched and observed by powers and authorities was updated in the movie The Truman Show to reflect the growing interest in reality TV. Even since then, reality TV and the omnipresence of security cameras, phone cameras, the growth of the internet and the ability to observe and share almost every aspect of our lives has gone to new levels that would shock even PKD.
Like all great science fiction in this field (and indeed in reality TV), there is an uncomfortable place where a fun and entertainment sit alongside a rather troubling aspect to society and personal freedoms. The amusing and slightly disturbing twist that Omni-Visibilis places on this idea is that it extends the nature of The Truman Show to consider an even more invasive intrusion into an individual's life being opened up for all to see, by having it protagonist Hervé being a little more real and not necessarily the most pleasant of people. How embarrassing would it be to have all one's most intimate moments and flaws open to view by everyone else in the world with no ability to shut down the intrusion?
Quite how it happens isn't clear, but suddenly Hervé discovers that everyone he encounters seems not only to know who he is, but have intimate knowledge of things that only he could possibly know about. Somehow, when people close their eyes and block out sound, they can see, hear and live the experience of Hervé live in that moment. Needless to say, this is a little disturbing and disorienting for Hervé, not least in how it leaves him not knowing where to look while he goes to the toilet. Suddenly everyone else wants to know who he is, where he is and how they can exploit his unusual ability for their own innocent and not so innocent purposes. Hervé's friends help him out, but not without considering how much money they can make out of it.
Like any good science-fiction idea of this kind, the use of an unexplained supernatural twist might seem bizarre and too detached from reality for the underlying themes to have any impact, but the opposite should be the case and is indeed the case here. What is really bizarre is that we have mostly let similar intrusions into our life with barely a complaint and could even be said to have supported and encouraged it by accepting social media, reality TV and listening devices into our homes without really thinking about the longer term implications. Omni-Visibilis suggests - but doesn't labour the point half as much as I do - that you really should be as frightened of this as Hervé. Fortunately Hervé is fictional, and no real people were harmed by this experience of Omni-Visibilis. Sadly we can't say the same about reality TV stars, people stalked and abused on Twitter and Facebook or who have been the victim of sexting or phone videos.
Which means that you should also really enjoy the comic book experience that Lewis Trondheim and Matthieu Bonhomme have served up for your delight and amusement, as well as give you something substantial to think about in a beautiful 160-page graphic novel. Although a terrific artist in his own right (those are definitely Trondheim clouds in the last panel though), Trondheim delivers a script that is amusing but also has an edgy quality to the characters and situations, not feeling the need to make them perfect or even entirely likeable. Following the escalation of Hervé's dilemma, Bonhomme's blue-tinted black and white artwork flows so beautifully that it's tempting to rush through this, but he arrests you at just the right moments with some striking panels that give you time to soak it all in and consider the deeper implications.