In a small corner of what was once known as North America, in the not-too-distant future, Neo-Toronto emerges as a prosperous island enclave after decades of war and unrest. In this world, knowledge is downloaded, learning is obsolete, cybernetic communication is the norm and even time travel is within reach. Citizens wholeheartedly embrace a doctrine of immortality, hoping to achieve Singularity—a state of autonomy so complete that human contact is rendered unnecessary.
Jarrett Heckbert’s Metamorphadox presents a cautionary tale of a society that loses touch with physical reality. This suite of 81 wood engravings chronicles the chilling journey toward posthumanity in a dystopian future-world in which experience is always mediated and reality is undeniably, inescapably virtual.
In a society that thrives on technology, Metamorphadox provides a timely reminder that while knowledge is important, so is retaining a sense of self.
In Metamorphadox, Jarrett Heckbert presents a chilling glimpse of an all-too-possible future. Through stark imagery, this graphic novel portrays a world that has finally achieved lasting peace, but at the devastating cost of individualism.
No text accompanies the imagery in Metamorphadox, whose illustrations are deceptively simple. Absent of any color, the wood engravings support the disturbing connotations of the graphic novel’s dystopian society. If color adds individuality, then a world that deprecates its importance will be free of such variance. Not only does the black-and-white palette support the sameness that pervades this society, it also suggests intolerance toward anyone who refuses to assimilate into the new order.
While the lack of text may present a challenge, the sequence of images more than adequately lays out a clear narrative. The absence of words does leave room for interpretation, yet the only logical conclusions to draw from the story veer toward the menacing end of the spectrum.
It seems surprising that a peaceful utopia could be easily established in the wake of a catastrophic war, but Metamorphadox postulates the factors leading to the conflict, as well as the instability fostered by the aftermath. As often observed in real-life events, such uncertainty can give rise to radical social movements. In many instances, religion provides the basis for these society-shaping ideologies, but in Heckbert’s utopia-turned-dystopia, technology becomes the vehicle for humanity’s downfall.
The hypothesis is hardly a novel one. What makes Heckbert’s cautionary tale unique is that humanity is not oppressed by technology that has become sentient or violent. Instead, humanity oppresses itself in the name of peace—a decision that rings even more uncomfortably true to life. In Metamorphadox, people join a collective consciousness where all knowledge is shared. This collective pool of human-driven information accelerates innovation and discovery, but it simultaneously leaves little room for those unable or unwilling to comply. The removal of these dissidents from the system remains explicitly ambiguous, although the implications are ominously clear.
The nameless protagonist of Heckbert’s graphic novel seemingly breaks free of the technological controls oppressing individuality to explore the various aspects of this unusual futuristic society. Ultimately, however, even this personal journey may be nothing more than another boundary set by the communal consciousness, raising the question of what is real and what is illusion.
In a society that thrives on technology that links our world together, Metamorphadox provides a timely reminder that while knowledge is important, so is retaining a sense of self. Computers, social media, and the internet are necessary tools in modern society, but should not come at the cost of losing touch with what makes people human.
—Vernieda Vergara, Foreword Reviews
Introduction or preface
Jarrett Heckbert’s Post Human Visual Narrative
One question that is always asked about a book of images is: What are the images illustrating? Jarrett Heckbert’s wood engravings are not illustrations in the traditional sense of the word. The word ‘illustration’ implies that the image adds information to an existing text. This is not the case with these images. These serve as an exploration of ‘picture reading’ that allows the reader to construct narrative through the interpretation of the visual allegory and symbols that are in the images. Although the images can be appreciated individually that is not how they were imagined. They are collectively a singularity, a single story told in pictures. American comics advocate Art Spiegelman once said, "Wordless novels are filled with language, it just resides in the reader’s head rather than on the page."
One easily notices the influence of popular culture within Heckbert’s work. He paradoxically engraves out of wood a story of an ethereal future existence using the media of print on paper. Perhaps in the future there will not be a world where knowledge is passed on with the aide of paper? The future world comprised in this book is constructed entirely through the development of the protagonist’s subjectivity in which it becomes post-human. Instead of focusing on a linear determinism, Heckbert thinks in terms of determination, in which this "metamorphadox" occurs within the complex web of reality. Tangible aspects of reality begin to dissolve within this experience as if the fate of a post-human subjectivity were to be dream induced, as a game or perhaps, as faux memory. Is this a message for the future that we should engage in the physical world or lose touch with it?
McLuhan said that ’the medium is the message’ but here—the medium is a systematic re-programing of our cultural sphere. Reading pictures without the support of words is counter-intuitive for many people. We’ve lost the ability to ‘read’ our natural world and have become lost in simulations. The massive subliminal erosion of our culture through the indoctrination by TV (in all its forms), video games, computer programs and all electric media gives salience to the notion that these media are changing our brains and our thinking patterns. Our technologies have become extensions of ourselves to the extent that we are inversely becoming extensions of our technologies.
George A. Walker AOCA, BEd, MA, RCA
Associate Professor, Faculty of Art
Ontario College of Art & Design University