Snowpiercer: Exploring The World-As-A-Train Metaphor

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The graphic novel Snowpiercer is a decent comic. You can’t ignore the heavy symbolism. The steadily moving train is all too easily interpreted as the Earth moving around the Sun. And just as with the Earth, the train is capable of running indefinitely and perhaps with no ultimate purpose. There is also the fact that the train, called Snowpiercer, is –like society– split into different classes. With Snowpiercer, the farther one goes back in the train away from the engine, the lower the class and the worse the conditions– til we arrive at the “tail-fuckers” who live in filth.

Though the main sweep of the narrative seems to want to highlight the injustice of a class system in which some live in squalor while others live like princes– there is a counter-current running underneath which plays with the idea that –perhaps if someone did upset the class structure– chaos, misery, and destruction really WOULD ensue… though perhaps not along the lines expected by those people who support the maintenance of the class-based society.

The art in Snowpiercer is what I think of as classic superhero comic standard– but before artists started layering muscles upon muscles upon the heroes. I didn’t at first notice just how superheroey the drawings were because the comic is in black-and-white– no shazam colors and slick pages like in the standard superhero comic. The faces are done in a fairly realistic manner– meaning, not stylized in some manga-leaning way, but with plenty of wrinkles, stubble, and shadow-hash-marks. I actually find this style a little ugly, but it’s pretty common, and I guess millions must love it. The characters in this book, by the way, are not especially attractive to begin with.

What really holds back the artistry is that the moments which have been chosen important enough to portray are not especially dynamic or emotional ones: people turning-around in a hallway, guys walking in a line, someone pausing… that sort of thing.

Also, the comic’s a little jumpy. Without chapter breaks or any other indications, the reader not infrequently finds that time has elapsed between two side-by-side panels– time during which fairly important stuff has happened. This is especially silly since the story is told from multiple points of view, so it would be easy enough for the artists to go check-in with another storyline and come back later if they want to skip time in one storyline. Or else they could just give us a clue that time has passed.

I also didn’t buy the sudden intimacy of our two main characters– who also happen to fit the roles of the (fairly standard) hard-edged and troubled male-protagonist-with-a-mission and his sexually attractive female side-kick.

On the other hand, I have to admit, I found the image of this lonely train (containing the last vestige of humanity) endlessly plowing through a snow-covered, holocausted world makes for pretty good imagery.

Also, our main protagonist and his ladyfriend make a trip from the rear of the train to the front– and this turns-out to have a decently epic feel to it. One of the groups the duo meet is the train’s priestly class, who turn out to be locomotive mechanics. Going back to the train as Earth metaphor, it doesn’t seem completely inconceivable that the vehicle of life, itself, would become worshipped as a God– I mean it happened with the real Earth readily enough. However, in the comic, I never could buy the concept. For one thing, the new religion evolved too soon after the world-ending catastrophe (something which happened within the living generation of characters).

Because of the potential for some magnificent images and due also to the high concept and epic feel– I feel this story will make an even better movie than comic, and indeed, I have it on my “to watch” list.

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