“There’s the dirty bomb hidden in the rectum of a divinity student from Atlanta,” the strip’s protagonist tells the woman he met in the security line at the airport as they fly across the country, not to mention “[t]he spent fuel rod in the golf bag of an executive from Boston” or “[t]he uranium pellet in the purse of a laid-off teacher from Columbus.”
It should, perhaps, go without saying that they end up in bed together, talking about how the man’s dosimeter “can continue to function after the detonation of a nuclear bomb.”
What Katchor is getting at is our obsession with danger — and the concurrent faith that somehow, with the right equipment, we might protect ourselves. The true genius of the strip, however, is how it uncovers the eroticism of the situation: the heightened intimacy, the whispered revelations, the excitement and the titillation of our fears.
"Black goes with everything," the woman says, referring to the color that indicates full contamination. This is radiation as fashion statement, as source of attraction, an accessory that transforms vigilance, even outright paranoia, into sex appeal.
Katchor has been mining this territory for some time now, since his strip “Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer” debuted in 1988. The ongoing saga of a photographer who wanders, alone, through the edges of an imagined New York City, it is a paean to the neglected details of a marginal life.
Over the years, Katchor has expanded into other areas: “A Personal Dosimeter” is part of a monthly series he’s done for Metropolis since 1998. Many of these strips (they’re all one-pagers) will be collected in his new book, “Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories,” which comes out in March.
Still, at the heart of all his work is the same intention: to find, however odd or enigmatic, a moment of real connection in an increasingly surreal world.