We’ve seen so much of this before, in fiction and fact : a post-apocalyptic future Earth, mostly submerged underwater by means of some unspecified climate-change-induced catastrophe, has descended into an equally-unspecified form of totalitarianism. Waterworld meets 1984, right?
A “slacker” couple, Spyda and Lynxa, while away the hours/days/weeks/years of their lives on a refurbished sailboat-cum-living-room; he’s a tattooed, visor-wearing, hopeless nostalgia-junkie who mostly speaks in movie quotes: reading, rather than film, appears to be her reality-exit of choice. Remind you of any dead-end couples you might have gone to college with — or may even know now?
And yet everything in Montreal-based cartoonist Connor Willumsen’s new Koyama Press graphic novel, Anti-Gone , is distinctly and unquestionably foreign, as well, entirely outside our experience, whether real or recieved : the economy of this world, rather than being in tatters, appears to be chugging along without a hitch; drugs remain a popular pastime for the youth set, but the drugs of the future are designed to enhance the feeling of being in the past; super-hero flicks are still making the rounds, proving this largely-execrable genre will probably survive anything, yet the one to which out two protagonists are making their way (hey! They’ve got free passes!) is a decidedly existential example of capes-n’-tights escapism.
And “escapism,” as well as its before-and-after-effects, seems to be the central theme of this entire book in so many ways — the desperate need for it in the face of near-insurmountable circumstance, and the addiction to it that leads to, even presages, the sort of ambivalence/antipathy that inevitably results in calamity. Spyda and Lynxa, after all, aren’t doing anything most people their age wouldn’t do in their situation — score and ingest drugs, have sex, and find creative ways to waste time. But will anything change as long as this is all anybody wants to do?
Willumsen’s narrative often seems to reflect the nonchalance of his central characters, maybe even their utter lack of both concern and/or information : large throngs of protesters are upset about something, but we don’t know what and it’s not even a terribly central concern to events; on the other side, psychotic cops meet this (sorry to invoke an overused term, but) resistance with lethal force, but whose specific authority they are acting with the imprimatur of is every bit as vague. It’s like everything is sinking into a watery grave and the only response to it we’re directly exposed to is — hey, let’s have as much fun as we can while we’re here! Even if the pursuit of that fun requires a fair amount of — gasp! — effort.
And, hey, while we’re on the subject of water, vast and open expanses of it — mostly signified by means of overwhelming, near-metallic grayness — is as constant a feature in this story as you’d expect given the synopsis provided a minute ago, and while the creatures that inhabit it are recognizable enough in the abstract, they also aren’t. There’s something “off” about all of this, as if it isn’t real, or at least not fully formed. Which may, in fact, be the case with this entire “reality,” since the question of how much of this seemingly-endless dystopian future is actually a VR construct being “experienced” in the here and now remains a very deliberate mystery throughout — again, underscoring the same core concerns already belabored (if that’s even the term we want to use since, theoretically at any rate, I churn out these reviews for fun) upon.
To be sure, ambiguity this deliberate and all-consuming isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes, and if I said I “understood” what was happening in every panel, even on every page, on anything other than some sort of intuitive level — even after two full readings and a good dozen or so browsings mainly concentrated on interpreting the art — I’d be lying. The stylized minimalism of these proceedings is established at the outset with the cover, so it’s not like the reader can claim he or she didn’t know what they were getting into, but even still — don’t try to absorb this thing in a hurry, despite the fact that “reading” it is a fairly quick process. Plenty of this shit takes time to seep in.
All of which is more than fine with this self-appointed critic. “I’m as good as you want me to be” is a line in the book that really sticks (even though it’s spoken by a side character — specifically a drug dealer), and in many ways it applies not just to him, but to Spyda and Lynxa, and to Anti-Gone as a whole. Odds are better than good that it’ll only take you a couple of minutes to “get” the title, and probably not much longer to figure out its relation to events within — but deciphering those events in their fullness? That’s gonna tax your (not inconsiderable, I’m sure) mental faculties quite a bit more. Willumsen’s book, then, in a very real sense, returns how much you’re willing to invest in it, and ends up being “as good as you want it to be.” I wanted it to be really effing good — and guess what? It is.