I Was Someone Dead
by Jamie S. Rich, reading at 23rd Avenue Books, 1015 NW 23rd, Wednesday Sept. 14, 7:30 pm
For six years, Portland writer Jamie S. Rich was Editor-In-Chief at local comic book publisher Oni Press. However, outside of a few odd, scratchy sketches from graphic novelist/artist Andi Watson, his languid new prose work, I Was Someone Dead (published by Oni), shares little with the comic book medium.
After inheriting his father's extremely successful plumbing company, Hieronymus Zoo purchases a remote island, Marlon Brando-style, and moves out to the middle of the ocean with nothing to keep him company but books and his loyal dog Gus. "The world we live in is a world of pain," Hieronymus says at one point, "how did it make sense for me to not want to get out of it as soon as possible?"
On his island, Hieronymus tries to create a life of blissful solitude and knowledge, and yet still finds himself plagued by two horrors: a recurring monster, called The Thing, that appears only in his dreams, and even worse, a young woman who sneaks onto his island while a boat is delivering him supplies. Naturally, the terror at finding his monk-like existence disrupted by a sexy woman fades, and passion blossoms between Hieronymus and his newfound beachmate. With love and not pain for once guiding him, Hieronymus finds the strength to do battle with the mysterious Thing, which ends up being an extremely heavy-handed symbolic representation of Zoo's own self.
It's hard to know what Rich hopes to accomplish with this odd little story. Zoo's inner pain is obviously great, seeing as it manifests literally in the form of a battle with a giant monster, but his background—which involves slightly detached parents and some episodes as a kid in which he was taunted with insults like "Hippopotamus Poo"—doesn't justify it. As a character, Zoo's experience isn't proportional to the actions he takes in response.
Through it all, Rich's prose is pleasant and amiable. He makes living alone on your own island with an attractive stowaway seem pretty nice. For all the pain Rich's protagonist has allegedly endured, I Was Someone Dead is about as painless as, well, a comic book.