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 Hornschemeier’s The Three Paradoxes. And after discussing it at the “Up Close and Personal” panel with Hornschemeier, 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 Hornschemeier and his father talking as they walk down the street. The next story you are introduced to a young Hornschemeier searching for a bully with his friends. The third story is the origin of the man with the scar on his neck. Finally, the fourth story is 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 a quick read, but 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 Hornschemeier 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 (Hornschemeier 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.
Enough about philosophy and symbolism, let’s talk about the art. There are five different art styles which help 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 Hornschemeier 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. The other stories relate directly to Hornschemeier, either his past or his thoughts. But this story isn’t about Hornschemeier. 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. If after reading this Socrates is not your favorite philosopher then something is wrong with you!