The worst part for me in any movie about aliens is when you finally get a look at what was behind all those creepy rustlings and mysterious blips. There was that one a few years ago before Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix self-immolated, where crop circles started turning up on Farmer Mel’s property, and questions of faith, and even M. Night Shyamalan himself. And Bigfoot finally, or anyway beings from the other side of the galaxy dressed up in furry costumes who couldn’t even break into the cellar because someone wedged a chair beneath the doorknob.
Jeez. This bummed me out. I’m also not very excited anymore over the prospect of giant metallic spiders coming to visit our corner of the universe, or even dainty little people with tadpole-shaped heads. Is it really, finally possible we have run up against the ends of our imaginations, or is this only the inevitable pile-up of too many film makers trying to get it exactly right? You want a tadpole-shaped head? I’ll show you a tadpole-shaped head!
But doesn’t this finally miss the point of aliens – that alone in our musings, they can be pretty much whatever we want them to be, and we’re probably not very much more mistaken than Stephen Hawking? Or internationally acclaimed author, philosopher and grown-up semiotician Umberto Eco when he imagines a creature (with Eugenio Carmi in The Three Astronauts) who has six arms and webbed feet and an elephant’s trunk that puffs smoke when he cries? Alexis Deacon’s melancholy sock puppet in Beegu? Or could extraterrestrial evidence be hiding right under our noses behind the sort of extraordinary objects we are unlikely to study very closely on an ordinary road trip – motel signs, and wind turbines, and gumball machines, and Mother’s cup of coffee that is possibly a secret window into another dimension – as in Edward Valfre’s Vacationers from Outer Space?
Now, I say, that’s the spirit! Because if there are aliens around, they are no less improbably observing us wide-eyed from inside a John Wayne table lamp as we who safari, hoping to catch a glimpse of painted jaguars through the inscrutable windows of a Toyota Forerunner.
A knobby yellow spaceship is the more traditional conveyance in Satoshi Kitamura’s UFO Diary, but really that is the only traditional thing about this book, which may initially baffle readers with its point of view (“On Monday, I took a wrong turn in the Milky Way.”) and yet I think this artist’s commitment to what is observed rather than who is observing is finally a kind of revelation in itself. There’s a suitably saucer-eyed boy in the field where the yellow craft hovers, and a rabbit, later ducks, a frog, some lizards if you are paying close attention, but the narrator remains invisible throughout. Ours must be such a breathtaking world to stop and discover – the swirling clouds and scattered islands, the pyramids we build and the butterfly nets we swing in the air – it’s no wonder the challenges we face imagining anything half so peculiar.