Panel to Panel
By Nathan Patton
The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8
Author: Thomas Ott
In his first full-length graphic novel, Swiss cartoonist and master of silent horror comics, Thomas Ott (“Cinema Panopticum”, “Dead End”) takes his Twilight Zone-esque tales to a new level of strange.
“The Number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8” follows a small piece of paper as it changes hands between an inmate on death row and the man who pulls the lever that executes him. The unnamed man finds the paper, which has only the number 73304-23-4153-6-96-8 scrawled on it, and puts it in his pocket on a whim. When he finds it later, he thinks nothing of it. The next morning, the numbers start revealing themselves in consecutive order as the man goes about his day. Before long, he’s using them to gamble and make decisions. And then things get weird.
Perhaps Ott is trying to say something about the kinds of things we invite into our lives. The story feels like a morality tale, but it doesn’t seem to follow the rules of one. The main character only notices the numbers in his life after he feeds a stray dog and the dog has part of it written in his ear. Either way, this all feels like ground that’s been covered before. The story takes its time and meanders as if the reader doesn’t already have a good idea of what’s coming. But Ott is fantastic at storytelling, pacing, and creating an ominous mood and I do feel like he brings something new to the somewhat dated tale.
Calling Ott’s artwork unique hardly seems a powerful enough word. He uses a technique called scratchboard in which he starts with a black canvas and scratches his pictures with a blade to create extremely detailed, emotional chiaroscuro. The mood and emotions he is able to evoke using this technique is stunning. And his books are almost worth buying for the art alone.
The short tales in Ott’s previous collections were very effective. But the space afforded to him by this longer-form work makes his story suffer by dragging it out, even if it also lets him breathe a little and step outside of the surface-level narratives of those shorter works. Ott should continue to do full-length graphic novels, but choose a more novel concept to put his hard work into.