Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
Writer: Thomas Ott
Artist: Thomas Ott
Review by: C.R. Stemple
The modern macabre plot twist was practically invented in the early 1960s by Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. These journeys into the heart and soul of man would regularly bestow upon their travelers prosperous and otherworldly possessions, abilities and choices that would later become vices comparable or worse than a world without them – in other words, serialized irony.
Employing a storytelling dynamic not unlike that of Serling’s science fiction classic, Thomas Ott’s The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 is itself a visit (albeit quite a short one) to a dimension not of sound, but of sight and mind that at once both rewards and confuses. But it is ultimately satisfying enough for one to appreciate Ott’s commentary on the nature of luck and madness, if only at face-value.
As a solemn prisoner awaits his ultimate punishment, clutching onto his last remaining possession (a small slip of paper brandishing the number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8), his executioner (and our lead protagonist) prepares the electric chair for the scheduled 8 o’clock termination of a double-homicide convict. After the firm hand of justice falls on the power switch and the executioner is cleaning up for the night, he discovers something peculiar lying beside the chair – a slip of paper with the number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8.
The man quickly begins to realize a series of strange coincidences involving this series of numbers. First, a small, stray dog with 73304 tattooed on its ear. Then, a headline of a marathon winner wearing the number 23. Followed by a flier for that very same missing dog – phone number: 415-3696. Address: 8 Beck Street.
Considering the fact that this book relies heavily on its aforementioned plot twist, only this much need be said of the remainder of the story: our executioner soon realizes the awesome power of a cyclical universe, for better and for worse. Ott’s writing seems a bit…predictable and contrived. And yet this approach oddly enough suits the overall cyclical nature of the plot. In a way, it makes the book feel more like an experimental piece with a coincidental narrative than a narrative piece that experiments with direction.
Also, the dog’s name is “Lucky.” Har. Hardy. Har.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to brass tacks when deciding whether or not The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 is worth a) the reader’s time and b) the reader’s money. As far as the reader’s time is concerned, The Number is a short, short work. This reviewer read The Number, cover to cover, on a walk to the train station. Not during a few train rides. On a walk to the train ride. It is a bit staggering how quickly one can “read” through 142 pages of silent, sequentially drawn story. For this reader, it meant 5 minutes of entertainment at a suggested retail price of $28.95.
Taking a step back from ultimate judgment on the book’s worth, though, the second time (and all subsequent times) reading through The Number, it took a significantly greater time examining the work not as a piece of graphic fiction, but as an exhibition of a marvelously talented illustrator. Ott’s hyper-meticulous attention to how detail relates to used space and negative space is at once both unsettling and captivating, utilizing a form of technical, pen-like cross-hatching for essentially every line that can only be described as Robert Crumb on Adderall. While the beautiful yet daunting art does not completely make up for the book’s crushingly short and slightly pedantic story, it most certainly adds to the book’s value as an exhibitionist piece.
The Number is a universally literate work of fiction that is a quick first read with potential for longer lasting examination. And even though the twist at the end can’t even begin to hold a candle to the mastery of Serling’s writing, it at the very least beckons its readers to utter an audible, “Huh.” And that is essentially this reviewer’s first and ultimate reaction to The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8:
For more info, www.fantagraphics.com
Pads & Panels received a copy of the book courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.