Using out of space aliens as a metaphor for out of state aliens is not a new literary technique and so as soon as we see the blue creatures of Blue disembark from their strangely designed ships onto the beaches of some small coastal Sydney town we know instantly what it is that they are here to represent and why author – and artist – Pat Grant has chosen to include them, though the places that he takes them to are entirely unexpected. For one we are shown early on a future in which they have taken over the town, passively tearing it down with the wake of their weird tentacles; an image that sort of damages any possible positive message of acceptance that we may be expecting from such a story. That’s not to say though that this is a racist or even a conservative text, not in the least, it’s all simply a matter of perspective. The biggest shock of all about where Pat takes things though comes when he takes the creatures off the page during the pre-credits cold open and then leaves them there for almost the entirety of the book. From there we are only ever shown these blue people through the eyes of three native Aussies; the subaltern never speaks and though this seems like it should disenfranchise them further, that approach is actually entirely besides the books point and purpose. Through Blue’s moral Pat is not trying to correct a mannerism in the men and women that come to this country, but rather the way in which we who are already here embrace them, if at all. So it is only fitting that he has chosen this focus for the book.
No matter what the title may suggest this then isn’t the story of the Blue’s, it’s the story of some kids who just so happen to live in the town where these things first land; the message and sentiment are secondary to them skipping school for a surf because to them, and us, ideas like immigration are much less important than details of our day to day lives. What makes the book’s perspective even more intriguing is the fact that despite being semi-truthful the story is also not told from the perspective of the author – who has admitted to basing Muck on himself – but the bigger, bully of a boy Christian instead and many of its statements and intentions are skewed even further by this, though they are at the same time also made more authentic. In this and many other ways Blue is true blue, evoking down under in every way, down to the spelling in the dialogue; the wounded occer vocabulary that the character’s speech consists of is evocative but still manages to make for an easy, enjoyable read; a perfect dialect. Though the situation is specific only in its surface trappings, similar stories are unfolding all over the world as we speak and have been for many years in many small towns just like this one. The way that the factory literally looms over the small town, constantly reminding them that it defines the style of their little lives, daring them to defy it. When the blue people arrive they do just that, destroy it; they take our jobs and in turn they take our town, they are the death of the Blue collar, or so the legends would have us beleive.
It’s important to understand that Blue actually isn’t as much about racism as it is localism, a term that the author uses frequently in his hidden fine print introduction and subsequent essay to describe the feeling. The residents of Bolton don’t just dislike these new people in particular, they dislike new as a whole for what it may possibly bring. There is a sub-plot in the book about a body that has been left on the train lines just outside of town, a corpse that attains the status of a Grail Quest for the kids who must make their way towards it though they know not why. Along the way they are constantly imagining what the mess must look like and these images are so much worse than anything that they actually manage to see; so too is our imagination of what these new people will do to our culture so much worse than what could ever happen. There is that stunning splash page of the town post-colorization that evokes the strongest of imaginable dystopias and this is there not to justify the hatred but to satirize it; the end result of introducing a new race will never be so drastic and it is the fact that we nevertheless fear such an outcome that damns us to our unhappiness. When you think the worst of someone based on something like the colour of their skin then you are likely to be setting forth a self-fulfilling prophecy, they are likely then to prove you right; though if you were to simply allow them in despite their difference, like a thirteen year old does the friends forced upon him, then you may yet be wrong. So to when you disallow people from your clique for such a reason they will be forced to form their own specific, condensed cultures that may indeed overtake your own, because left on their own people devolve and polarise favouring extreme reactions now that they are short the standards of society; things like the destruction or a derelict boiler.
The use of the color blue within the book is intriguing and nowhere near as arbitrary as one would expect; it permeates every page, eventually painting even the landscape in its image, showing us the effect of these people on the land itself. Though wasn’t Australia always a land of the blue? Aren’t we, especially those of us over in small seaside towns like Bolton, almost entirely defined by blue? By the seas and skies that surround us? Aren’t we also “blue people”? Interestingly then the flashbacks and imaginings in the comic come colorless, as the past perhaps is in the minds of these people; though as we now know the introduction of color in our comics, as in our television, was a progression and so why can it not with cultures too? These people bring with them new approaches, new stories and a new style or art much greater than the crude comics that the kids peruse at the local pharmacy, but none of them are accepted. There are even some literal attempts made by Christian to quite literally whitewash the world that he lives in but these are ultimately fruitless; besides being wrong it’s a waste of time because culture comes in like the tide and you just have to try and ride it, even when its swell seems too big and too scary.
It’s an intricate and important metaphor that resides at the heart of this book, but you wouldn’t know it to read; rather, Blue is an utterly irreverent comic, more interested in surfing than sermonising, it just so happens that it can achieve the one through the other. In this way it is a true Aussie book in style and content, when most of the admittedly amazing Austrialian efforts these days are basically American affairs (I’m looking at you Gestalt). Grant has revealed the sales spreadsheet he and Top Shelf used to make profit predictions for this first printing and he needs to sell a lot of these to come out on top. So if you’re an Aussie, a lover of fine literature, a surfer, supporter of visual arts, believer in racial equality and acceptance or the combination of all the above that I like to call a comics fan then please pick it up. We need to get those numbers out of the red because that, that is a truly bad colour.