Ripple is strange. Very strange.
Well, maybe not.
Martin, the narrator of our story, is an uninspired illustrator. After failed attempts at making underground comics, his entire existence has morphed into a cotton candy malaise as he spends his days illustrating facile children’s books for a post-Barney generation. Upon the notice of an unexpected grant award, Martin’s stupor of indifference quickly ends.
In trying to muster up any piece of inspiration, Martin decides that his grant will produce paintings for an exhibit tritely titled, “The Eroticisim of Homeliness.” What begins as a dull concept of trying to paint conventionally unattractive women in an erotic light spirals rapidly out of control when Martin meets his first model, Tina.
Tina, by no means, is a physically attractive woman. She has the grace of a boar. She is unkempt and slovenly. She has the most peculiar canines, almost like those of a dog. She is completely untamed.
Tina’s personality does not have much to allure either. She’s not quite the sharpest girl. She lacks manners. She lacks tactfulness. She lacks the ability to consider the feelings of others. She is completely hedonistic in her philosophy of behavior.
Regardless of Tina’s lackluster, almost grotesque image and persona, Martin becomes completely infatuated with her, in a suffocating and overwhelming way that he cannot understand. His obsession is both carnal and transcendent. He physically longs for her and simultaneously hungers for her love. He is completely enamored.
Ripple is the complete recounting of Martin’s obsession with his subject Tina and their resulting relationship: their meeting, their physical encounters, and their end. It is more than just a tale of an artist-subject infatuation; Ripple is a character study of Martin, the artist, in the confines of his vacuum of a world. As Martin becomes more and more enraptured by Tina, we slowly begin to understand his seemingly mysterious, irrational desires for her.
Prior to Tina, Martin’s life lacked any emotional dynamic range. He lived at a stasis with his art, with his apartment, and we can assume with his love life. Love was abstract to him, derived from books and poems and never from any human encounter. He lived a life of complacency, rarely emoting and experiencing the feelings that are unique to humans.
Consequently, in facing Tina, Martin’s stasis ended. With Tina’s purely hedonistic sensibilities, Martin finally experienced and felt the highest range of excitement, joy, and lust and the lowest embarrassment, sadness, and disappointment. Though Tina was not his normal, “type,” Tina’s inability to even be classified leads Martin to his first time to actually experience the full emotional range of a person in love and to achieve the concept of the Ripple, the sensation of a complete disconnection from reality and the entrance into a world of complete consumption of another person. The Ripple is the heightening of pure sensuality in a way that is completely incomprehensible unless you have experienced it. For him, the Ripple is a completely abstract concept at first and one that Tina mocks him for until the two finally enter the Ripple at the climax of their relationship.
Regardless of the outrageousness and possibly sensationalistic sexual encounters between Tina and Martin, Ripple is a study of the compromises we make in life and how they affect our perceptions and preferences of sexuality, a topic well discussed by Bertrand Blier’s Too Beautiful For You, a film where a wealthy car dealership owner has an affair with his homely secretary. In living a complacent life, free of any major imperfections or traumas, one’s irrational desires and tendencies get displaced. All of the paths it travels are unknown, but in Ripple and in Too Beautiful For You, it goes toward sexuality.
By the end of Ripple, for Martin, love is no longer a flowery concept, no longer an abstracted, holy, sacred concept. It is tied to the earth, tied to Tina and the reality of all of her imperfections. The book itself is his attempt to pull apart this phenomenon of his desire for her, but she is gone, leaving him with a new sensation, irreconcilable love and longing.
Martin is certainly not well. His encounters with Tina were definitely unsavory, but, he has now at least experienced something more human than anything else in his normal, pallid life and can perhaps return to illustrating children’s novels without such complacency and maybe, just maybe, can create something inspired. This book is at least a good start.
Ripple by Dave Cooper is available via Fantagraphics Books.