Apocalyptic Blues (and Pinks, and Oranges) in Ben Passmore’s DAYGLOAYHOLE

spread of Ben coming across the sea of pornography


Ben Passmore
Silver Sprocket

In Ben Passmore’s Ignatz-nominated DAYGLOAYHOLE, the apocalypse has already happened. Cities are destroyed, people incinerated … it’s a bad time. But of course it wouldn’t be any kind of time without someone to interpret it, bringing us to the bespectacled and underwear-clad Ben. Passmore’s partial self-insert, Ben is a sad, lonely man. He doesn’t have a lot going for him—although in this world, who does? Ending up somewhere between Dhalgren’s the Kid and Oryx and Crake’s Snowman, Ben ekes out an existence in the ruins of New Orleans as he contends with existential dread. There’s an undulating sea of porn for him to seek out, a distant father to (again) be disappointed by, and of course, zombies! What’s strikingly apparent, however, is the immediate threat of constant, encroaching whiteness.

It comes in all stripes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, even amid the apocalypse white folks have found a way to monetize the rot. Whether it’s blithely mining the setting for bland, sentimental poetry, or displacing Black and brown folks from the few safe havens left in this ruined world, white people oblige. A pair of cops continually terrorize in the name of maintaining order, which as Ben explains, is so goofy in a country where there isn’t even a centralized government to pay lip service to. With all artifice stripped away, they merely serve white supremacy. In that way, it’s just like our world.

But it’s not all doom. Passmore colors DAYGLOAYHOLE’s world in candy oranges, juicy greens, and bubblegum pinks (or maybe guts is a more apt comparison?). A strange physics has struck the wasteland. Creatures and people become elastic and syrupy. There’s more of a suggestion of order than a hard set of rules—watch as those fascist cops fuse together to become a twin-headed super mutant post-dismemberment. Ben gets turned into a giant cockroach by a digital snake computer monster. That’s not even mentioning when he’s impaled and then forms a new person, Jodee, from his own insides. Because no matter how shitty the world here is, at least there’s surprise and motion.

Ben is a measured storyteller. It takes him a while to wake up in the morning, and he’ll get to things when he gets to them. There’s a real sense of loneliness and contemplation with Ben, sometimes to the point of annoyance when he wallows (oh, and he wallows). Being a single sad man in an unfeeling wasteland is a story that can get tiresome, but Ben, in his own words, is soft. When he errs, it isn’t too long before he (with tough love from others) examines himself and hopes to find some kind of synthesis. There’s a vulnerability in Ben, and by extension, Passmore’s writing, especially when he’s forced to face his father, Scott. Almost as if walking out of a magazine ad, this icy, sunglass-wearing guy is practically spotless. The “teflon” shirt he wears everywhere is amusingly not too on the nose.

It’s helpful during Ben’s arc that Jodee challenges him as a woman, especially during a time where he really doesn’t put in the time or care to nurture a relationship. In a story with few female characters, Jodee, even as a “creation” from Ben’s own insides, has her own agency and acts on it almost immediately.

We’re also endeared to Ben as he struggles against forces, which despite their post-apocalyptic garb, carry a lot of weight. Nowhere is this more actualized than his encounter with a trio of young, white culture vultures. Honestly, culture vulture is probably too kind of a descriptor. The three have taken up residence in a giant robot dependent on the constant extraction of local resources, pushing out residents, all the while harnessing the cops to hold domain. They sift through the accumulated material of the beforeworld to proffer ‘Marxist’ critiques before deciding to literally (literally.) consume the works whole. As the three attempt to act chummy with Ben (fetishizing his Blackness, among other things), the depths of their terribleness becomes so clear. More than that, I know these people. You probably know them as well.

In the end, Ben is the perfect person to lead us through an apocalypse that is perplexingly more mundane, more boring, more goofy, and more violent than you might expect.

Finishing just one chapter of Ben’s adventure treats readers to an entirely different energy and texture. On the other side of the apocalypse is NOLIMITZ. NOLIMITZ is a tattooed, grimy, furious avenger, looking for one thing and one thing only: FOOD. With their trusty mutating dog GUTZ by their side, they’re gonna kill their way across the wasteland until they get what they need. Initially having little affectation outside of burgin’ real hard, NOLIMITZ soon comes to define themselves as no man, totally outside the gender binary. When other characters continue to call them dude, man, and “he,” it’s honestly a little grating. But what DAYGLOAYHOLE cuts right to the truth of is NOLIMITZ’ weariness interacting with countless randos: as a nonbinary person, it’s mostly net-negative.

DAYGLOAYHOLE also cuts right into the heart of a gaggle of fascist cops, nazi-fucks, and hideous freak-beasts. As NOLIMITZ and GUTZ dispatch so many foes with superhuman ability, these manic highs help propel us forward into troughs and dips of Ben’s more muted affair. The book benefits from having two perspectives to break up the pace, and it’s to the story’s credit that two completely different tones and storytelling vectors are balanced with seemingly little effort.

Passmore’s paneling and lettering are really the star here—favoring explosive speech bubbles and dynamic cut-ins when it’s time for NOLIMITZ’ katana bloodbath, and less rigid panels and meandering speech during Ben’s smut odyssey. While we initially can’t see much of a connection between the two characters, what ties them together are those same threatening forces mentioned above. Even across an incongruent tones and subgenre, what threatens the world is the same. There’s no escape from that. Even if you have a hard time investing in either character on their own, there’s a great payoff when the two come together in issue #3.

The comic is aided by some lovely backup stories and interstitial art. Commenting on the lack of women in the story is a nice piece by Erin Wilson, where our two protagonists are too held up by their internal monologue about the depth of sorrow in the wasteland to notice an oasis just beside it, with plenty of women managing just fine. Scott Kroll creates a diptych about the two main cop antagonists and their descent into murderous hypocrisy.

As you read through each issue of DAYGLOAYHOLE, it feels like you can see the process of Passmore developing as a creator. Every new issue presents something very different from the last. DAYGLOAYHOLE hits on extremely real things while still being a story that somehow straddles the line between goofy and terrifying. It’s gross in places, but that’s just the nature of the beast. I think readers will find something for themselves if they continue to push past their own discomfort towards the violence, encroaching white supremacy, and depressive lows.

Apocalyptic fiction often appeals to prepper libertarian types—here’s an exciting, untamed world full of danger and opportunity. In this way, DAYGLOAYHOLE reads like anti-apocalyptic fiction. The world just kind of sucks in myriad ways; just more of it is laid bare now. It’s not completely devoid of joy, but, god, it’s hard to go on living. As pressure continually mounts and the grip on some security in my life continually fades, I appreciate this comic’s honesty now more than ever.

Liam Conlon

Liam Conlon

They were once a pro JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Heritage for the Future player in the US, but then adulthood happened. Now in Washington, D.C., they spend their time writing, drawing, designing games, exploring fashion, and keeping it dialectical. You can find Liam on Twitter @Flowtaro.