What with Easter last weekend and my kids’ sudden (and fairly inexplicable) interest in Kit Williams’ 1979 classic treasure hunt book “Masquerade”, it’s been non-stop rabbits and hares at our house since the beginning of April. It seemed quite in keeping then when a six page comic by Pol Sifter dropped through my door with yet more Leporidae to add to the myriad cutesy Easter Bunnies and Williams’ ill-fated messenger of love, Jack Hare.
Pol normally produces wonderfully striking – and wonderfully anti-establishment – cycling imagery and his latest offering, “Bicycle Day”, though no exception from the above, adds narrative, history and a good dose of chemistry to the mix. It’s title comes from a short cycle ride home from a place of work on April 19th 1943 but given that the cycle rider in question – one Albert Hofmann – has just self-administered the first dose of a synthetic drug called LSD you can see where things might get interesting.
Before this most unusual trip we are treated to a visually supercharged chemistry lesson on the origins of ergot alkaloids, the derivations of lysergic acid and the synthesising of new compounds from those base chemicals. As early as 1938 Hoffman had produced twenty-five Lysergic Acid Diethylamide compounds. There must have been something special about the chemical make-up of the 25th compound because Hoffman re-synthesised it 5 years later and swallowed a load a couple of hours before heading off home on his bike.
We’ve all had bad days in the saddle. Hunger knock, fatigue and dehydration can all play tricks on your mind. I’ve heard of long-distance audaxers hallucinating through sleep deprivation. But it’s probably fair to assume to Albert Hoffman’s bike ride that day was a cut above. Fuelled by 25 mg of LSD he dryly recorded it two days later. Given that he previously recorded an “extremely stimulated imagination” and “intense kaleidoscopic play of colours” just from an accidental absorption through his fingertips, and that he was already recording anxiety, visual distortion and dizziness before he even left work, his lab notes are a masterpiece of understatement. “17:30 Home by bicycle. 18:00 to c.20:00 Severe Crisis.” We can only imagine.
What makes the comic more than just a science history lesson is the artwork. Rendered in bold blacks and reds, Pol has replaced human heads throughout the pages for those of hares, and our long eared friends crop up in the pages as often as visual references to bicycle parts. Offset CYMK printing adds to the feeling of distortion. It’s a very fresh take in a seventy year old chemistry story.
“Bicycle Day” is available as a limited edition of 100 for £3 via PolSifter’s webpages.