In his third year of working on the comic, Chester began to experiment with different media, incorporating photo collage and Op Art elements into his artwork. This was particularly effective in Blockhead #27 when the titular character was sent to another dimension dubbed the Enigmatic Zone. Depicted as a white void decorated with random floating objects – seedheads, planets, clockwork parts – and geometric details such as spirals and concentric circles, Chester managed to convey a powerful sense of otherworldliness. This was further augmented by his use of a limited colour palette of purple, orange and grey. Blockhead spent the issue wandering round in a daze, bewildered by his surroundings and the unusual approach to image-making perfectly communicated to readers the character’s own sense of confusion.
The title had long been seen as a charming, slightly eccentric comic book and had a small but devoted readership. It was particularly well-regarded by college students and those readers involved with the counterculture. Some of these fans now read Blockhead’s experiences in the Enigmatic Zone as a thinly-veiled metaphor for a bad trip and wrote letters approving of what they considered to be the subversive element in the narrative.
Chester’s inspiration for the strip, however, came from a different place entirely, as he later recounted in an interview:
People thought that that I was making allusions to drugs but I wasn’t.
I used to have these panic attacks where I’d wake up not knowing where I was, not even knowing who I was and being unable to work out if what I was experiencing was a dream. I’d wake up in a panic, sit bolt upright in bed and the disturbance would wake my partner. I’d be babbling, asking her ‘Where am I? Is this real?’ and she’d remind me who I was... and reassure me... and I would go back to sleep. This happened a number of times. Each experience didn’t last very long, but it was terrifying when it happened and the fear would remain with me for days afterwards...
I was always looking for new situations to put my characters in, and I thought that this would be a good one for Blockhead to deal with. I also thought that perhaps it might be cathartic for me.
-- Extract from Stan Kurtzberg’s The Hidden Story of Miracle Comics.
TWSBI Diamond 580 with Platinum Carbon ink on A4 Stillman and Birn Alpha Series paper. Digital colour.