Clocking in at a lean and mean 64 pages, Spanish cartoonist Ana Galvan’s latest, Afternoon At McBurger’s (originally published in 2020 as Tarde En McBurger’s, coming soon in a hardback English-language edition from Fantagraphics with translation by Jamie Richards) packs a tremendous conceptual wallop cleverly hidden within the trappings of a fairly breezy narrative. Inventively structured, meticulously rendered, and lavishly adorned with a riso-friendly color palette, it’s an auteur work in every sense of the term, a comic that could have been made by no one other than its creator. It’s also, and I say this with nothing but respect, a rather deft extended sleight-of-hand trick.
Which is to say, if laid out in strictly linear fashion, it would probably be a bit too obvious for its own good on the whole, but the mark of any visionary is to assemble things in a manner that reflects their own point of view, and often that involves presenting readers with a new take on fairly standard storytelling tropes. I mean, time travel narratives are nearly as old as time itself, and this is hardly the first occasion in which they’ve been utilized within the confines of what could broadly be termed “YA” fiction, but what Galvan is concerned with more than the nuts and bolts of the brief glimpses of the future the girls in her story are “gifted” with is the implications these “life spoilers” have on them in the here and now — and, on the other side of the coin, she’s also exploring by default how the mindsets of the youngsters’ here and now selves shape their perceptions of who they will become.
Not that the here and now of her comic is necessarily our own here and now, mind you — unless you know of fast food joints that run time travel lotteries for kids (appropriately termed “Once Parties”) or people who have little egg-shaped household robot servitors — but at its core the character of this world and its de facto social order is at least as familiar as it is exotic. Again, Galvan’s real skill lies in presenting the tried and true through a set of eyes that makes it all seem fresh bordering on the revelatory. And, in that sense, it’s not unfair to describe this as a pastel-hued rumination on the nature of adolescence itself, a coming-of-age fable for the first generation to have their lives directly impacted by AI algorithms from cradle to grave — even if that’s a gross oversimplification of things on its face. Loss of wonder and innocence and egalitarianism is still a part of growing up, but the effects of those losses have broader implications these days than they once did in that they’re now every bit as technologically based as they are biologically and socially. And while the corporate overlords of McBurger’s aren’t cruel enough to show the “winners” of their contest the steps and stages that will lead to the futures they’re temporarily dropped into, even a quick look at how things are going turn out for you will necessarily effect how a person goes about their lives in the present.
So, yeah — there’s a hell of a lot to consider when reading this comic, and Galvan’s layered, multi-faceted approach to telling it results in something of a narrative “onion” that reveals new layers beneath each one that readers peels away. Again, it’s not so much a confusing or convoluted approach as it is an inherently clever one, and while that’s undoubtedly deliberate, it’s to the cartoonist’s great credit that she’s not out to wow you with her ingenuity — she’s simply following her own artistic instincts, and that’s still the both the best and most honest way to make art in the first place.
Anyone who’s read Galvan’s previous Fanta-published work, the 2019 short story collection Press Enter To Continue, will recognize this new book as being very much “of a piece,” both thematically and aesthetically, with its predecessor, but don’t take that to mean she’s resting on her laurels and simply staking out familiar territory. While it’s true that she isn’t expanding her approach per se, she’s doing something every bit as important : refining it, sharpening it, and deepening it. She’s clearly got a very specific — and unique — methodology, as well as a very particular set of concerns and a very unorthodox prism through which she views them, but I don’t see that, at least to this point, as limiting the scope of her imagination in any way. In fact, I defy anyone to read both books in one go and not be utterly convinced that she’s finding both her her voice and her footing remarkably quickly and that her best work is probably yet to come.
Afternoon At McBurger’s is slated for release on December 7th, 2022, and can be pre-ordered from the Fantagraphics website at https://www.fantagraphics.com/collections/coming-soon/products/afternoon-at-mcburgers
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