Artist: Amancay Nahuelpan
Colorist: Tyler Boss
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
A review by Nico Sprezzatura.
As of July 2017, we’re living in a post-Brexit, post-Trump, everythingisbadomg world. It’s impossible to go a day without seeing a multitude of upsetting headlines in the news, usually involving the Trump Administration’s obvious corruption (like today!) or general unrest in the world. Times like these produce reflective, uncomfortable art that’s either reflective of our world, or speculative of what could happen next.
This week’s Calexit #1 (from Black Mask Studios) is based on the hypothetical event of California’s succession from the United States, and how it would affect the people living in that state. Given recent events (like the aforementioned Brexit), it’s not exactly impossible.
Calexit is set in a world much like ours – i.e. an anxiety-ridden dystopia where Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. Though not explicitly identified in the comic itself, the POTUS depicted in Calexit #1 is very obviously Trump, down to the way he’s illustrated and written in the opening prologue. We even see a figure later in the issue who’s clearly modelled on Steve Bannon, lending very little doubt as to who this reality’s POTUS is.
In leaving it up to the audience to make that connection, writer Matteo Pizzolo’s restraint is commendable. In lesser hands, Trump’s involvement here would feel hamfisted and on-the-nose, but he’s not our antagonist, and he doesn’t even appear beyond the prologue… I hardly consider that a bad thing. The world presented is a result of Trump, but Pizzolo isn’t aiming to write an indictment of the man himself.
As explained in the backmatter, Calexit is a story that’s basically being told and developed in real time, as our world devolves into further chaos. It lends a palpable sense of urgency that you probably won’t find elsewhere in comics, and I don’t know if I’d necessarily recommend it for everyone for that reason.
While some may need a story like this to help themselves process what’s happening in the world, others could be turned off by it, or prefer more escapist fare. That said, those opting out of Calexit #1 would be missing out, because Pizzolo sets up an interesting story here. By the end of the issue, we’re introduced to our main characters, our central conflict, and a plot that’s clearly set in motion. Though bearing ambitious intentions, Calexit #1 doesn’t forget to hook readers.
Calexit’s visuals–by artist Amancay Nahuelpan, colorist Tyler Boss, and letterer Jim Campbell–are fantastic and a major point of interest. It would be easy (perhaps too easy) to render Pizzolo’s script with austere illustrations and a drab color palette, but the art team instead provides something that’s surprisingly colorful and dynamic.
I’m not very familiar with his work, but Nahuelpan’s illustrations here are revelatory. Calexit is a dense comic in terms of its scripting and story, but Nahuelpan helps ease the burden through appealing character designs and page layouts. Boss bolsters Nahuelpan by bathing his work in warm coloring, which–considering the book’s California setting–is endlessly fitting.
Special mention goes to letterer Campbell as well, who tackles Pizzolo’s dense script admirably; I never once felt lost or confused while going through the issue, which certainly could’ve been a problem with this material in other hands.
It’s not an easy or comfortable read, but Calexit #1 may prove valuable to those who need an outlet for their frustration and anxiety in our scary, post-Trump world.