The landline telephone rings at home, harshly jarring your cocoon. You immediately panic. What terrible tragedy may have befallen a family member? Or, much worse: who is trying to make you talk to them?
The graphic novel Rufus Marigold is a print compilation of a multi-part online series by Tauranga artist Ross Murray. Rufus is a man-monkey living alone in a contemporary New Zealand city and struggling with debilitating social anxiety. He works in a faceless office as a Logical Data Analyst – a role that even sex workers find depressing – but quietly dreams of becoming an artist, despite its inherent imbalance between talent and income.
Rufus is overly concerned with how others see him, and always assumes the worst, erroneously. Caught up in self-loathing, Rufus’ anxiety consumes his life and overflows to impact others. Although Rufus fears being ‘alarmingly conspicuous’ in public, he is also dismayed when people don’t acknowledge him or his efforts.
In exploring self-help books, Rufus discovers Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety. It resonates. ‘I’ve finally found someone who completely and utterly understands me. It just so happens he’s been dead for over 150 years’. Eventually, Rufus’s tentative online posting of his artistic work receives some of the validation he’s been craving. But even this objective assessment of value still feeds into the cycle of anxiety, as he feels pressured to appease his fans with new and better material.
When he is offered a book deal for his work, Rufus cannot cope with the possibilities it offers. He is cajoled into agreeing for one Ross Murray, an ‘overwhelmingly mediocre’ local artist, to act as the public face of the role. Finally, Rufus is forced to confront his intrinsic needs. ‘Why don’t I feel happy? Is acknowledgement what I really want? Does success require recognition?’
Murray has channelled personal experiences in the vignettes about the man-monkey who shares his initials. He deftly captures the ratcheting anxiety and exhaustion caused by over-thinking in social situations. Murray has been mentored by New Zealand comic artist alumni, such as Dylan Horrocks and Sarah Laing, resulting in images that are neatly framed to put the reader in the role of sympathetic (albeit occasionally irritated or nauseated) observer. The muted colour palette, with occasional floral bursts, reflects Rufus’ deliberately bland, careful life.
In this well-packaged graphic novel, Murray and Earth’s End Publishing show that deeply individual stories of anxiety can have wide resonance with many readers.
Reviewed by Jane Turner
by Ross Murray
Published by Earth’s End Publishing