The most recent U.S. presidential election ushered in one of the most divisive eras in American history, and has stoked unprecedented fear and uncertainty among many within the country’s social and political landscape. Resistance has risen on the streets, on social media, in news outlets, and in the form of artistic expression, all of which have served as means of articulating the concerns held by the divided populace regarding the future of the nation. Matteo Pizzolo and Amancay Nahuelpan deliver one of the more compelling messages of division and resistance in the striking Calexit #1 from Black Mask Studios, a frequently brutal and shocking introduction to a near-future account of events that’s extrapolated from today’s disconcerting headlines.
The story beyond Calexit’s deceptively brilliant title is exactly what uninformed readers might imagine it is, but its impact might be far greater. Set six years after the election of an unnamed but very familiar looking and sounding president, Calexit is the story of the state of California’s ongoing, and agonizingly difficult, attempt to secede from a country it can no longer consider itself a part of. Pizzolo doesn’t try to, or need to, recount the origin of this movement, as the seeds of reason behind secession can be found by simply turning on this evening’s cable news. The brilliance of Pizzolo’s story is that he doesn’t have to expound much effort connecting the dots between today and several years down the road — he merely waters the thoughts and anxieties that are already pervasive among half of the country’s population, and simply lets them grow into the timeframe of his story.
To make his story connect on a human level rather than just a societal one, Pizzolo adds a variety of characters who are fresh, to complement those who are also clearly political caricatures. Jamil is a drug runner with a conscience, willing to work for both sides but with an implied leaning towards the resistance, Zora is the local figurehead of the movement whose presence can be felt even when not directly present, and the sinister but benevolently named Father Rossie is the cold, cruel and calculating government lead field agent. Pizzolo’s premise was enough of a sell to get readers to check out his story, but his characters are what will keep them coming back.
While Nahuelpan’s linework is a little crude and simplistic, his layouts are far more dynamic and establish a tense, gripping pace for Pizzolo’s story. Lengthy sequences, like Jamil’s low-key interaction with a National Guardsman, or Rossie’s frightening interrogation of Zora’s family and neighbors, not only establish the nature of the characters but make for incredibly powerful and emotionally-connective sequences. One scene of neighborhood defiance is both chilling and uplifting, making the inevitable retaliatory action all the more disturbing. The moment is even more powerful when one steps back to remember that these are fictional events, yes, but ones based on current national discontent.
Calexit #1 can be called a cautionary tale of a dystopian near-future, but unlike other such stories rooted in a more fantastic and less everyday basis, it hits home because it doesn’t have to stray very far from present-day reality to transform into such a nightmarish near-future.