I like the cat. It’s barely there; just a single line dividing inside and outside. And then it’s bound by the bottom of the panel, so the something inside and the nothing outside seem equally arbitrary. The tail is a separate thing; it could be a raindrop sliding down the surface of the panel. The cat’s eyes and nose could be raindrops too. The lit lit lit is the sound of the cat tail raindrop hitting the panel, and the sound of the eye and nose raindrop hitting the cat. One lit for each, the sound of rain dripping.
The window in the corner could just as easily be a painting, or a drawing. In fact, it is a drawing. Is that the delusion? Or the bare substance? The raindrops in the window, or the picture, are not raindrops. But they aren’t empty either. Ideas, not clinging, but falling…at least in theory.
I think the comics almost makes more sense if you rearrange the panels, or drop some of the panels. The monk’s questions and answers don’t really seem to add anything; it’s less a socratic dialogue than a monologue with more or less distracting interjections. The fact that there’s a pretense of communication almost makes the thing more hermetic. If Ching-Ch’ing doesn’t have an interlocutor, then some of the contradictory statements seem less like things you have to parse, more like he’s vacillating inside his own head. Instead of setting his own conduct up in opposition to that of ordinary people, you could read him, without the monk, as saying that he, too, is an ordinary person, on the brink of falling into delusion about himself. In fact, treating the rain as a metaphor could be seen as a step into delusion. The rain is not people upside down falling into delusion about themselves. The rain is the rain. But the bare substance is hard to express. It turns into deluded people, or into the word “lit” (like “literature”?) or into the picture of a picture of rain. To express the bare substance, all you’ve got is representation.
The title design, with the little raindrops on either side, is pretty clearly twee. Maybe it’s the title Ching Ch’ing is referring to when he says that ordinary people pursue outside objects; the title is outside the comic, labeling it, and providing the one real drawing of rain (if you don’t count the cat’s tale as a raindrop, and count the window as a picture.) The unnecessary fillip of design, and of such an unassumingly finicky design. The little “lits”, the cat, the bald-headed monk tilting his head just so, and the world in which equal line weight and lack of shading means that bodies and backgrounds fail to become each other only through the delicacy of reader and creator’s mutual forbearance — all of these seem to try to find profundity through ostentatious smallness. You wonder if the bare truth of Zen is a tea cosy.
In the first panel, the sound outside is the sound outside might be seen, not as the sound outside the room (wherever that is) but rather as the sound outside the speech bubble itself. But the speech bubble has a sound inside itself too — or at least as much of one as the sound outside. If Ching Ch’ing is seen as a shape, then the sounds — his speech, the lit lit — are all outside him. Pursuing outside objects could be the words running outside the self, chasing those lit lits.
Or perhaps what’s outside is us, looking down, upside down over the page, falling into delusions, or on the brink of doing so, by trying to avoid falling into delusion by reading about avoiding falling into delusion.
In the little additional text at the bottom, Porecellino says you and I discuss how people cling to words and ideas when the Old Monk drops by. That makes the monk the rain, falling from outside to inside. But which monk is this? Is it Ching Ch’ing? Or is it the monk talking to Ching Ching? I think it’s probably supposed to be the first, but I kind of like the idea of the straight man monk showing up, maybe with the cat, and all of us standing around confused together. No rain.