Koma imagines an orderly world where everyone has a job. That job is their entire life. For Addidas (not the shoe) and her father, that job and life is being chimney sweeps. They spend their days cleaning chimneys and flues. Addidas crawls into the smaller side-flues that the father cannot reach. It is during one of these cleanings that Addidas slips down a chute and emerges in a shadowy underworld. It is there that she discovers the truth about not only her existence, but the secrets to life itself.
This shadowy underworld is the domain of dark creatures which work tirelessly day and night on massive machines. Each machine corresponds to a single person. The creatures keep the machines, and the people, in balance. But when the balance is disrupted, the machine stops working and the person dies. At once frightening and nurturing, these creatures are the keepers of human life.
The story moves briskly, with pages turning rapidly. Writer Pierre Wazem includes plenty of dialogue to make sure that the reader has some idea what is happening, but a great deal of the storytelling is handled by artist Frederik Peeters. Peeters juxtaposes the innocence of youth (as personified by Addidas) with the hulking, ugly monsters below. Addidas is shown with wide-open eyes and the ability to smile in almost any situation. Her head is too big for her body and her legs are just a bit too short. The result is an innocent child whose big ideas and boundless curiosity get her into plenty of trouble.
In contrast, the creatures who man the machines are burly and fierce looking. Their eyes bulge from beneath sloping brows, and their long arms drag on the ground as they move. They are built for work, and their work is not pretty. But, like Addidas, they care deeply about what they do.
The art is fun, and skews a bit young (in the same way that the art in Bone skews a bit young). This may give a casual viewer the misconception that the book is designed for youngsters. However, with some curse words, the script is not going to be acceptable for younger readers. Not to mention the fact that this “childish” looking story deals with existential questions – questions about the nature of life and creation, and a twist ending which leaves grown ups reeling and children puzzling. Make no mistake, KOMA is decidedly a book for adults.
As much as KOMA is a book about Addidas and her adventures underground, there is also a biting commentary about man’s desire to achieve immortality. In the book there are a group of bureaucrats who have discovered the monsters and their connection to life. They plan to replace the monsters with robots so that the machines will be even more efficient and they will live indefinitely. Pierre Wazem is clearly concerned that our quest to understand the mechanics of life may actually lead to our undoing. Instead of trying to find meaning in the mechanics and science, maybe the true meaning and importance of life comes from holding on to the innocence and enthusiasm of youth.