The history of the universe is very long and complicated, but it is done no favors when represented as the steady, linear, progressive force of Enlightenment. That is meant as both critique and compliment to authors Daniel Locke and David Blandy, whose new collaboration, Out Of Nothing (Nobrow), gestures in both directions at once—wondering about the infinitude and unknowability of the universe through colors and shapes while, on the other hand, pontificating on the need for “Reason” and “Logic.” Math, the book’s narrator tells us, is the universal language through which we will discover the answers to life’s mysteries.
The book, which tries to draw together the cosmological history of the Earth, a brief history of the importance of remixing to innovation, and a glimpse at a possible future for humanity, has its work cut out for it. Anonymous, prehistoric storytellers, Kazakh farmers, Johannes Gutenberg, Albert Einstein, and more populate the narrative, which is told through the eyes of an unnamed time traveler. Sent back from the future, this young girl allows us to observe the story of how we got here. Her blue skin gives her away, and, disjointed from time, she is also disjointed from body. She sticks out like a sore thumb—serving not as a useful vehicle for observation, but rather, as more motif than character. With her, it seems Locke and Blandy want to conceptualize a way to tell this story through a relatable persona or screen. The problem is, their subject matter cannot be related to—not in the way that other people are related to. What does it feel like to watch the universe unfold before your eyes? How does that experience present itself to you? Certainly not in a way that can be effectively transmitted through the stoic face of a blue time traveler.
The most beautiful, moving moments in the entire book are the most abstract, the least explained. They are panels of light and color and line and movement. There are no characters, dialogue, or exposition in these sections, and even the drawings themselves are not meant to represent anything in the world. At various points, the comic reaches these odd, sublime flashes when the whole enterprise is subordinated to making two or three fleeting images feel a certain way for a brief moment. These moments represent something that is true while also being outside of logic or science or mathematics: putting a lie to the text’s own grand statement about the search for knowledge. The authors cannot sustain this tension, because they cannot control it—because, it appears, they don’t realize it’s there.