By T. Trewhella
I spent my formative years awash with toxic waste. It was the 1990s and I lived in an unmourned area of North England. My world was greys and browns and beiges. Colour came from fiction and the fictions that I loved the most were drenched in dangerous shades. After the industrial progress of the mid 20th century this is what was left. Barrels of lurid carcinogen buried in the ground by corporations. The aftereffects of industry, waiting.
What was so appealing about toxic waste wasn’t just the splashes of colour in my life or the inherently delicious look. It was the potential for change. The slime; the transformed; me. These were fixed things with defined narrative arcs, known characteristics and forms. You could look up their stats on the backs of the action figure cards or read their school reports and predicted exam results and know who they were and how they came to be. To be splattered with toxic waste was to be transformed, to have the straight line of you spiral into a wild scribble.
I came to comics late. Comics cultural flotsam? Sure. Between X-Men and Batman cartoons I knew that comics were a me thing. I dug the aesthetics but the actual texts? Too fragmented, too expensive, not able to scratch the right itch. It wasn’t until I started working in a comic shop and read Saga of the Swamp Thing, primarily by Alan Moore, Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, that I “got” comics. Swamp Thing is about a thing that realises that it’s not a human after all, just shaped like one. Despite this it is still deserving of love, safety, and freedom.
Toxic waste turns up across issues 35 and 36; “The Nukeface Papers” parts 1 and 2. Nukeface was a Totleben creation, partially inspired by the still burning real-life toxic fire in Centralia, PA. Nukeface comes from Pennsylvania, a sipping-tin of toxicity to warm his guts. He misses his home and his buddies, but they too have been transformed. When all around you is plastic and shifting, the only way out is through. Take some control. Drink the waste down. More colour, more toxicity, dissolve yourself and find an even newer you.
The poison doesn’t harm Nukeface anymore. It’s part of him. He is post-industrial now, sustained by the noxious sludge that remains once progress has done its thing. He tries to help Swamp Thing but instead nearly kills them. Now industry has changed Nukeface he cannot interact with the avatar of nature. Divergence evolutions into two irreconcilable futures.
I was 36 before I realised that I was non-binary. Issue 36 represents a further transformation for Swamp Thing too. A casting out from their intermediary form into the blue, to regrow into form fit for the American Gothic arc and beyond. The Nukeface Papers hit hard when I was 21, just like Clayface and Morph in the cartoons I loved as a kid. Nukeface, Swamp Thing and me. What we always were; the same but changed.
Saga of the Swamp Thing #36
Written by Alan Moore
Drawn by Stephen Bissette
Inked by John Totleben
Coloured by Tatjana Wood
Lettered by John Constanza
T is a writer who writes about comics, games, feelings, the future, and nail polish. More of their stuff can be found on Twitter over here. They are toxic.
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