The Park – Oscar Zarate

The park

My latest recommendation from OKComics as I slowly delve into the comic/ graphic novel world was the whimsical revenge tale The Park by Oscar Zarate.  What I found interesting was that it was only really after I had finished reading and put it away that the concepts and themes really began to seep through me as I went about my everyday life.  The story centres around a chance encounter in the park between Ivan (columnist /blogger and soon to be radio presenter) and Chris (postman / musician) after Ivan’s dog bites Chris and how this incident unfolds, is seen by each side and how others react to it, particularly their grown up children.  Chris loves Laurel and Hardy films and he and Ivan play out an over the top absurd reaction to the dog incident that mirrors Stan and Ollie who Chris watches and draws solace from throughout the developing story.

In many ways you can just read it as a bit of whimsical fun but there are I think some really interesting themes that are being commented on within the book, not least how we communicate and interact with each other.  I think the author is asking the question of whether, despite all of our technology, have we not regressed to characters in a silent movie with wild gestures that lack nuance and understanding?  People jumping to conclusions and reacting without thinking things through, looking at the whole picture and without talking?  Ivan sees Chris kick his dog and takes to his blog to denounce this hooligan and bragging about how he took matters into his own hands despite the fact that Mel, his daughter, told him that Chris had been bitten by the dog and was reacting defensively.  Chris is angered when he learns what is being said about him, wrongly, via the internet but does not really want to do anything about it and is not sure what he could about it, which makes his son Victor very angry who decides to try and seek revenge.

park1

Has the immediacy and omnipotence of social media clouded our judgement as individuals within a society and made us less reflective and more eager to spout opinion on all things without perhaps knowing the facts and has the eagerness to rush to the keyboard affected how we actually behave towards other people in real life?  These are quite large and profound questions on how our society is changing that are explored through four main characters in the story.  In addition the idea of reflection I found interesting, after all it’s only on reflecting on what I had read that I really thought about what Zarate might be saying with his story and the fact that it’s set around a Park is telling I feel as, for those of us who live in an urban environment, Parks are one of the main places that we go for peace, fresh air and reflection.  Zarate sets the scene for our urban splashes of greenery thus:

The Park.  Blue skies, only a few wisps of cloud.  If you close your eyes for a moment and listen, jumbled sounds gradually become distinct.  Kids playing football, a brass band bringing an echo of the past (you think of your parents, something of your childhood comes back to you).  You hear fragments of conversations, the squeak of buggies, the chirping of birds, the swoosh of kites, the caw-caw of crows, the rustling of leaves……. sudden yells of delight – a kid has scored a phenomenal goal.  Young people are singing a song by Oasis.  A dog barks, you smell the grass.  Just for a moment you feel intensely alive.  Now you open your eyes then you know why we love this park.  Woodland, wildlife and people meet together in the middle of the city, the pace slows.  People linger over conversations.  It’s like the countryside.  Gentle, green hills, ponds, bridges, lines of old hedgerow with rarities such as wild service trees and woodland hawthorn, old poplars, oaks, maybe over 500 years old, ancient witnesses of other times, their roots twisted like exposed varicose veins.

This beautiful paean to park life stands in stark contrast to how many of us live the rest of our lives in cities, cooped up in small boxes, not knowing our neighbours, little if any sense of community or communication where after working we close the front door and retire to the keyboard where we moan about our existence and criticise people that we don’t know.

For me therefore The Park acted as a modern day parable focussing on us as the modern day inter-connected people that we are but warning us of the importance of real relationships, communication, shared space, community and to form our judgements slowly.  Be wary of the keyboard.

An illustration from The Park by Oscar Zarate

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