“I’ve got to get this stuff out somewhere.” To represent his inner muse, the cover of Dull Ache, a 2010 gatherum by young British prodigy Luke Pearson, shows a cutaway outline of his white head, swimming - perhaps drowning - in a stormy undertow of images and ideas. His brain is empty, save for a small, abstracted black skeleton with an overgrown skull. That skeleton is his mind’s eye and its dotted lines of sight project through its host’s eyeballs.
Inside Dull Ache, Pearson ruminates on the sources and processes of his not-always ‘innocent fantasies’ and his ‘self-absorbed autobio comics’. What if his own bed, where most of his ideas are conceived, ‘simply sneaks around to my other side when I’m too tired to notice, tricking me back into its comfortable grasp’? Later, ransacking box after box of memories, he can’t find anything, but then in a four-panel page captures his terror of the dark, lingering since childhood, or a nightmare of sprouting multiple heads based on his various self-representations.
Pearson tempers his imaginings somewhat in Hilda and the Midnight Giant (2011) by making his avatar a savvy, sweet little girl, all big eyes, pointy nose, blue hair, freckles, beret and big boots. Hilda has one foot firmly planted in the dreary mundanity of her mother’s worries, the other in a magical parallel realm of invisible elves and a mysterious nocturnal creature. Channeling the atmosphere of Tove Jansson’s Moomins and Hayao Miyazaki’s anime movies, Pearson is refashioning them into his own fresh twenty-first century folklore and a plucky, cute heroine sure to charm all ages.
Hilda is reminiscent of boy-dreamer Little Nemo, conceived in 1905 by American comics and animation pioneer Winsor McCay (1869-1834); both children can explore a mainly reassuring Slumberland and return unscathed. To let loose his inner demon, however, Pearson subjects the protagonists of his other comics to far more unsettling experiences, not unlike those in McCay’s darker series, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend.
In Pearson’s ‘My Latest Work…and All to Come’ in the compendium Nobrow 6 (2011), for example, a star-struck female admirer is invited back to an artist’s studio to see ‘kind of an autobiographical piece’ titled ‘The Double’, only for her to throw up at the grotesque ‘1:9 scale replica’ he has built of himself out of putrefying remnants and body matter from his entire life, ‘held together with spit, jiz and plasticine’. In a sick twist, he mops up her departing vomit to add to his masterpiece.
The compact but riveting graphic novella Everything We Miss (2011), probably Pearson’s finest work to date, charts the slower, subtler entropy of a couple’s relationship, symbolised by another skeleton, freakish with two outsized heads, abandoned by the roadside. Further liminal monstrosities include a pitch-black wraith, one of vast flocks floating Magritte-like overhead, who oozes its fingers into the man’s head, ‘gripping his molars and his tongue to craft his words’, manipulating him to insult his girlfriend, and eight-legged lizards scrutinising the pair’s every action.
The same unsettling atmosphere pervades his new strip below, created specially for Art Review magazine, about a disturbing ailment. Pearson’s comics invite us to notice what goes unnoticed, the bizarre behind the banal, the things that lurk just beyond our peripheral vision.
This Article original appeared in ArtReview Magazine.