Eurocomics Spotlight : Ana Galvan’s “Press Enter To Continue”

Running a stylistic gamut that incorporates everything from Manga to Art Deco to THX 1138 to Black Mirror, Spanish cartoonist Ana Galvan’s English-language debut, Press Enter To Continue — recently published in agreeably sleek and slender hardback format by Fantagraphics — is probably the most HONEST comic in at least semi-recent memory, using an economy of words and minimalist linework to make a bold statement on where we are as a society and where we’re going. It’s both “of the moment” and prescient at once, and immediately establishes Galvan as an auteur in the truest sense, to wit : someone with a singular message and a singular method of presenting and communicating it.
Formally inventive page layouts with a tight internal logic and a fluidity that’s as easy to grasp as it is completely unique mark this as an innovative work even before the pastel color palette, infused with eye-catching geometric design work, is added into the mix as a final touch, and given that we’re talking about a series of thematically and narratively intertwined vignettes set in a near future extrapolated entirely from events and trends already extant in today’s techno-riddled society, a self-contained, even hermetically sealed, visual language is essential when it comes to making the universal the personal, and perhaps even vice-versa. Our descent into a transhumanist hell may be taken as a given by some — perhaps even many — but here Galvan makes the problem look and feel as immediate, as urgent, as it no doubt is.
In Galvan’s version of, to quote Kirby, “the world that’s coming!,” data mining takes on a physical proportionality commensurate with its booming market capitalization, “human” resources departments are deployed in service of tasks that live up to their Orwellian name, corporate overlordship is silently acknowledged as the all-powerful force it’s been for decades already, and externally-transmitted suicidal ideation is the newest form of population control. And while her stories look like something 20 years ahead of their time, none of them particularly read as being at all far-fetched in any way, shape, or form.
Are you scared yet? Of course you are, and likely have been for a good, long time. But it never hurts to remember that fact, nor to acknowledge why.
Alienation from the self and its most basic needs and desires in order to sell them back to us in corrupted and ultimately empty form and keep us yearning for more has always been capitalism’s central project — the captains of industry take away human sexuality and sell us back pornography ; rob us of actual community and offer up a pale for-profit approximation of it via “social” media — but herein the hustle is made plain, and taken to its logical extremes. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here, and all that — but rest easy, for an entirely-unattainable artificial semblance of it is ever and always just a click, and a credit card payment, away. What you want? Baby, they go it.
Which isn’t to say that Press Enter To Continue is a fundamentally dystopian work — on the contrary, it’s something far more chilling than that. It operates under the depressingly accurate presumption that the dystopia is already upon us, and offers a series of road maps to its inevitable end points. Whether or not it’s the most memorable comic of the year is open to debate —although I’ll go on record right now as saying it very well might be — but to date it’s likely the most important one.
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Four Color Apocalypse 2019 Year In Review : Top Ten Collected Editions (Contemporary)

After this, we’ve got two year-end lists to go — but we haven’t even done this one yet, so perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. My definition of “contemporary” collections is anything published from the year 2000 right up to the present day, and while many of the books that follow may very well fit your — or even my — definition of a “graphic novel,” the fact is that if they were originally published as serialized works, either in comics titles of their own or as part of anthologies, or if the strips presented in these books were culled from sources various and sundry, then this is the category they fall into by my entirely-unofficial rules. And with that, away we go —

10. The Sleep Gas By Chris Cajero Cilla (Fantagraphics Underground) – The spiritual successor to the likes of Doug Allen and Gary Leib, this welcome collection of Cilla’s often tough-to-find short works showcases precisely what he does best, namely crafting tales that are set in a world (or worlds) that are agonizingly familiar yet altogether alien, charming in the extreme but not without an element of the eerie to them. One of comics’ truly idiosyncratic talents who never produces anything less than “must-read” material, so yeah — this is a “must-read” book.

9. Rust Belt By Sean Knickerbocker (Secret Acres) – Nobody has their finger on the pulse of “flyover country” quite like Knickerbocker, and this slim but powerful collection showcases the best of his self-published series, introducing us to the dead end communities full of dead end jobs and dead end lives that find their only release valves via alcohol, opioids, crystal meth, and right-wing political demagogues. Read it and weep, but read it you most definitely should.

8. Rooftop Stew By Max Clotfelter (Birdcage Bottom Books) – It’s about goddamn time. Long one of the funniest, grossest, and most honest cartoonists around, Clotfelter can do everything from post-apocalyptic mutant humor strips to painfully resonant dysfunctional family autobio, and this collection is as seriously overdue as it is seriously amazing.

7. The Follies Of Richard Wadsworth By Nick Maandag (Drawn+Quarterly) – Nobody makes you laugh and squirm uncomfortably at the same time quite like Maandag, and his latest features everything from would-be college professors oblivious to their numerous and painfully obvious shortcomings to randy monks out to “enlighten” their co-ed monastery via decidedly earthly methods. Quite possibly the year’s funniest comic, yet painful to sit through in its own unique way at the same time.

6. Kramers Ergot 10 Edited By Sammy Harkham (Fantagraphics) – The venerable anthology returns in a generously oversized format and with an eclectic mix of the old and the new — from Frank King to R. Crumb to Kim Deitch to Anna Haifisch, it’s a tour through comics’ history and present. The single-strongest entry may come from editor Harkham himself, though, who provides a side-step to his long-running “Blood Of The Virgin” serial that actually turns out to be downright essential. There’s some questionable inclusions in here, sure, but if this turns out to be the end of the road for this title as has been rumored, then it’s definitely leaving on a high note.

5. The Anthology Of Mind By Tommi Musturi (Fantagraphics) – A truly gorgeous and equally truly subversive collection from one of the most multi-faceted talents in comics today, presenting everything from surrealist abstraction to lush painting to computerized pixelation to precise realism, all in service of narrative or non-narrative subject matter that’s never quite what you think it is — to the extent that you can even go into any given strip in this book with a preconceived idea, prepare for it to be dispensed with quickly and replaced with something altogether more wonderful and mysterious.

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4. The Tad Martin Omnibus Edition By Casanova Frankenstein (Spook City/Lulu) – Okay, yes, including this one may be a bit of a “cheat” since the material it presents goes all the way back to the early ’90s, but the strongest section of the book is Frankenstein’s already-legendary #sicksicksix issue from just a few years ago, so —leave it to this one to defy my category classifications as easily as it defies just about anything and everything else. An exercise in constant re-invention, having this entire series (minus its just-published seventh installment) bound together in one volume is a gift from the cartooning gods that none of us deserve. Well and truly beneath the underground.

3. Glenn Ganges In : The River At Night By Kevin Huizenga (Drawn+Quarterly) – Springboarding off simple — or not so simple — insomnia, formalist master Huizenga takes us on a visually and thematically spectacular tour of consciousness, time, and everything it means to be a joyously, deliriously imperfect being. His finest outing with his stand-in protagonist yet, this is a clinic in how to engage audiences with the “heaviest” of topics while alienating or intimidating absolutely no one.

2. Press Enter To Continue By Ana Galvan (Fantagraphics) – Limning the entirety of the shape of things to come, Galvan’s all-too-plausible speculative strips combine innovate geometric design work, boldly incongruous color choices, corporate ownership of humans down to the cellular level, and the data-mining of consciousness itself to present a visually marvelous dystopia that’s as impossible to stop looking at as it is terrifying to consider.

1. Alienation By Ines Estrada (Fantagraphics) – A bold yet subtle exploration of what it means to be human in the digital age, Estrada’s rich graphite illustration looks even more gorgeous presented in the blue ink of this collected edition than it did in the black-and-white single issues, and the color “correction” also adds an extra emotive touch to what is both the most compelling comics love story in some time and a monumental and exhaustively-thought-through exercise in “world-building” — yet for all its narrative and visual sophistication, this book retains the core punk/DIY attitude and aesthetics that its creator is justly lauded for. Brimming with confidence as well as singularity of purpose and vision, this is an instant modern classic of the medium.

Up net we’ve got the top ten special mentions of the year, which is the category for all “comics adjacent” works, but until then please consider supporting my ongoing work by subscribing to my Patreon site, where I serve up exclusive thrice-weekly rants and ramblings on the worlds of comics, films, television, literature, and politics for as little as a dollar a month. It’s the best value going in original online writing and hey, it at least helps yours truly with a little beer money, so do check it out by directing your kind attention to