Wednesday, July 25, 2007

REVIEW :: The Three Paradoxes

by Paul Hornschemeier
80 pgs :: HC :: Fantagraphics Books

reviewed by Shawn Reynolds

One of my favorite purchases during this year’s Heroes Convention was Paul Hornshemeier’s “The Three Paradoxes.” And after discussing it at the “Up Close and Personal” panel with Paul, moderated by the ever lovely Andy Mansell, I was very excited to get a chance to sit down and read it.

On the surface this book is simple. There are four main stories, each with a corresponding art style. The first is the story of Paul and his father talking as they walk down the street; the next story you are introduced to is young Paul searching for a bully with his friends. Then there is the origin of the man with the scar on his neck, and finally the story of the philosopher Zeno explaining his three paradoxes. When you first begin to read this book it is hard to figure out how all the stories relate to each other. But by the time you finish you start to see how they connect. I will warn you: you will need to read this through at least two times, maybe more. It is not a light read. It is rich and dense and there are many layers and meanings.

To understand the book it is important to understand Zeno’s paradoxes. An oversimplified version of Zeno's paradoxes is as follows: 1) you can never begin, 2) you can never catch up and 3) you can never move. For me this book is simultaneously supporting and refuting Zeno's claims. Socrates is the voice of reason, stating that change does exist. While Socrates points out the flaws in Zeno's paradoxes and logic does lead us to conclude that they are false, the rest of the book supports the paradoxes. That said, the book supports them in a limited way. For example, when Paul encounters the bully in that moment he could not move to defend himself. Later on he could move, but in that moment the paradox holds true (Paul directly states this in reference to not being able to move when he sees the scar, but I wanted to point out a less obvious example). Change seems to be inevitable and yet when you want something to change it seems like it never will.

An interesting aspect of this book is the symbolism of the road. It is a symbol for change and progress. Roads take you places. They send you out on journeys and they bring you back home. When you walk across the street you can become a different person. Also, it is a symbol for danger. Bad things can happen on the road. And bad things can happen when you travel down the road. In my 11th grade English class the teacher discussed the importance of the river in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” She said that it symbolized a baptism. Every time Huck got into the river he changed. In “The Three Paradoxes” the road takes on the same significance. Just how most of the action takes place in or around the river in Huck, most of the action takes place in or near the road in Paradoxes.

But enough about philosophy and symbolism, let’s talk about the art. There are five different art styles. The change in style helps to differentiate between the stories. This distinction is important, if there wasn’t a sharp contrast between stories the book wouldn’t flow and it would get really confusing really quickly. The story of Paul and the bully is told in a child-like comic strip style; whereas, the story of the scar is like a comic book from the 1970s (complete with yellowed paper). What strikes me most about the different art styles is that the Zeno story seems to distinguish itself from the other stories. It appears to be a separate entity, not a part of the larger narrative. Which is true. The other stories relate directly to Paul, either his past or his thoughts. But this story isn’t about Paul. It is about some philosopher a long time ago. The Zeno story may be separate, but it is integral to the understanding of the story.

I think this work is highly successful. The art, the dialogue and the flow of the stories all work together to make this a rich and complex work. And after reading this if Socrates is not your favorite philosopher then something is wrong with you.


Daniel Von Egidy said...

Go for it Shawn.

Shawn Reynolds said...

Oh Daniel, you are a complicated man and no one understands you but your woman.

Dan Morris said...

Shut yo mouth!

Shawn Reynolds said...

I'm just talkin' bout Shaft.

J Chris Campbell said...

Now you've gone and made me want to read it again.

Dustin Harbin said...

Read Shaft again? I always heard the book was better than the movie.

J Chris Campbell said...


RichBarrett said...

Nice review, Shawn. Have you guys gotten any more copies of this in? I want to check it out.

Michael said...

Shawn, I think you do an excellent job of precisely summing up a very complex and rewarding work. This is one of Paul's best works (right up there in quality with Mother, Come Home although very different) and is indeed deeply layered and multi-faceted.

I think the entire work not only supports the "you can never catch up" and other paradoxes - it ACTIVELY works to promote the idea that we never actually make progress: progress is an illusion or, at best, is tediously slow and minute. The whole book, to me, shows that while we may make small, incremental steps and changes, we never arrive at our destination. We never achieve the change, the full self-actualization, the full happiness that we want.

I'm not sure the Zeno comic refutes the paradoxes. Socrates, I think, is the voice of the doubting reader - the common sense approach of "of course we make progress, if we didn't we'd never get anywhere." But Socrates is highly unsympathetic in the comic and comes off as pompous and prematurely dismissive of the Zeno's idea. I read this as a refutation of Socrate's (and thus the skeptical reader's) idea, thereby supporting again that progress is an illusion. Or perhaps that "real" progress is an illusion: the things that truly matter in life don't ever improve.

The Zeno comic may seem out of place, but as I think you suggest, is actually a vital piece of the entire work and serves to highlight the theme of the book (and inform any reader who doesn't know what the paradoxes are). I think there's some thought to be put behind Paul's use of comic books within a OGN, but I'll pass on that for now.

Again, good work, and indeed, this is a HIGHLY recommended read for people searching for more substantial sequential art fare.

Shawn Reynolds said...

Rich, we did get some more copies in and I think one of them has your name on it.

Michael, you bring up some really interesting points. I might have to re-read it and think about what you said. I guess I'm too much of an optimist to think that progress is merely an illusion.

Douglas Merkle said...

Shawn is totaly biased and is an art stealing wh...meaney.

Shawn Reynolds said...

Sour grapes? And I may be a little biased. What can I say, I'm a fan of his work.