When asked about the origins of The Surface in an interview with Paste, writer/creator Ales Kot answered with: “My overwhelming need to be loved and appreciated.” And with the debut of The Surface, Kot has created a comic that achieves exactly those sentiments: It’s storytelling that gives itself to you so completely you quickly come to love and appreciate not only the artifact, but the creative minds behind it.
If you’re familiar with Kot’s past creator-owned work, Zero and Change, you know that there are few writers that think of comics as a vehicle for narrative in the way he does. Kot communicates his stories with the creative energy of Hickman and Vaughan, often giving you the sensation that you’re reading something special within the first few pages of an arc. But what seems to drive and “brand” his particular writing style is a type of courage and obsession with investigating the complexity of human issues. This authorial desire to discover, provoke, and change from the creation of the artwork makes him braver than most as he’s occasionally willing to leave the reader in the dust. Kot’s stories come off as rich, introspective and extrospective, macro and micro—always intensely dialectical. The Surface is no different.
The world is gritty, commercialized, and filled with crisp colors. Right into the first page the all too relevant discussion of privacy and identity in the age of internet technologies and accelerationism comes to the forefront. Intrigue seeps between the panels and Langdon Foss’s lines bring expressive personality to each character and landscape. Society here, at least on the surface, is dynamic and as complex as Jordie Bellaire’s coloring. The environment feels lived in, and as such a real place that on another plane could exist outside Kot’s mind.
I’ve been spoiled in my 2014 introduction to comics in that I jumped right into the aforementioned heavy weights (and Kot on Hickman’s blurb referral on the backmatter of Zero Vol. 1). After getting some range with unfamiliar series and creators, I’ve learned that these types of authors are few and far between. While different in ideology, theme, and expression, a density and propensity for capturing truths binds them together. The Surface #1 offers up this density and in turn bares the mark of great literature: Inexhaustible readability.
This illimitability is accomplished through a signature style that pulls from different forms of literature to expand the channels of communication between the reader and Kot’s thoughts/feelings. The Surface’s story proper is spliced with diegetic ads, articles, and a real interview with Kot himself, all which flesh out a world beyond the two dimensions of the page. This technique is not unique to Kot, calling back to Eric Stephenson’s incredible use of it in Nowhere Men (and I’m sure can be traced much further back than that), but he certainly owns it. It is this willingness to experiment that led to such exciting and happy accidents like the pink Cormac McCarthy-quote splashpage in Zero. These moments are important for the medium because they expand the toolset, giving all writers in comics new ways to build.
And Kot has chosen to build The Surface from a meta angle, pouring over with his many anxieties as a writer, creator, and person. The intimacy of this approach makes the work honest. It makes you trust him and his desire to shows us the proverbial truth that art so often promises yet fails to deliver. It’s still too early to tell if The Surface will succeed in its ambitions, but so far this comic seems worthy enough to be in your pull list. If for no other reason than to find out what’s below.