Walking the line between fantasy and reality in a narrative is a tricky business. In Code 45, a key aspect of the story is the different perceptions of what’s actually happening in Montreal’s metro tunnels, depending on the character, or group of characters. This means that artist Joe Ng and I had to find a variety of ways to communicate that just because something is shown on the page, doesn’t mean that it’s universally accepted as having happened by everyone in the story.
That’s a challenge in particular when dealing with a story like ours where our main character, Vanessa, also functions as narrator. If not done carefully, it can come across as though her version of events is definitive. At the same time there’s also the danger of the page itself acting as narrator, and suggesting to the reader that seeing is believing, particularly if events occur outside of a character’s presence.
There are several tools we ended up using throughout the story to maintain the air of mystery about the events depicted in Code 45. One was the use of shared experiences. If metro workers, ravers, or even Vanessa and her friends are reacting to the world around them in a similar way, then that would seem to suggest, or reinforce, the idea that these events are actually happening. To balance this, we work hard to maintain the thread that a shared paranoia, fantasy, or hallucination in the mix to then undermine that certainty.
It’s here that differing perspectives and reactions to something depicted on the page comes most effectively into play. If the reader sees one thing, but two characters involved each experience something different from both the reader and each other, then which one is ‘right?’ Which version of reality is ‘definitive?’
Throw in the intervention of outside observers – third parties completely outside the world of the Montreal metro night shift – and we are suddenly able to deconstruct the certainty of what appears on the page at the same time as we cast doubt on the opinions of the characters interacting with both it and each other. Art and narrative together can effectively destroy the concept of ‘objective reality’ and keep the reader and the characters equally off-kilter about what, exactly, is going on, all without distracting from the story itself.