I reviewed Dark Ages earlier this summer. It was a new Image book from Abnett and Culbard, which were names I recognized from Vertigo’s New Deadwardians. I was caught off guard by the quality of the art which was simultaneously awkwardly stylized and brilliantly laid out. I got over the sculptured facial features and eventually came down on side of, yeah Culbard is a really solid visual storyteller and I want more.
Fortunately, Culbard made a stand-alone solo graphic novel this year, published by the London based company Self Made Hero. I had been planning to eventually order a copy, but trusted that I would forget and never read the thing. Best of intentions, right? Then I ran across a copy of the book at Small Press Expo, and the man with an accent wanted my money even though I wasn’t wearing the coolest clothes from the 80s, so I bought the thing…
My copy of Celeste is a beautiful hardcover volume with smooth matte interiors on paper I want to rub all over my face. It comprises about 2 trade paperbacks worth of story, about an hour of reading, although owing to Culbard’s easy to read art you can easily move faster. I can’t stress enough that amount of story and the physical quality of this book is more than I expect at the $25 price point. No actually, it’s what I want at that price, but I’m usually stuck with two Deadpool trades and a free flyer about a crossover event. What I’m saying is, Self Made Hero, thank you for your professionalism and for living up to my meager standards.
So who else would enjoy reading Celeste? Overall, I’d describe the book as maybe magical realism? Or maybe more like surrealism? There are elements of psychological horror, romance, fantasy, and crime drama genres, but not enough of anything in particular to classify the book in that manner, or to bring in other fans of those styles.
The book follows three individuals, an all business middle aged white man in California, a young albino woman in London, and a suicidal artist in Japan. Suddenly, all three find themselves alone, or maybe almost alone, or maybe just alone with themselves. This means something different to each person.
The man in California finds a kidnapping victim with amnesia in a car trunk, and begins to unravel the mystery around what he and the stranger have in common. The albino girl in London goes on a spontaneous date with a punk rock red headed babe from the tube station. The man in Japan falls down into a rabbit hole of bizarre nightmares. Eventually each person realizes that they are all more alone, but also possibly more in control of their experiences than originally expected.
Final interpretation is left open to the reader. For me, this was an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be left alone with myself. It’s one of my biggest fears because I can be so bad to myself sometimes. I also believe that we’re always turning around on ourselves and chewing ourselves up, that it makes us better and worse to sacrifice who we were. It’s an important idea to me, but one that I’m not good at articulating yet. Culbard gets close in this book.
Such a huge amount of Celeste was visual only, with limited dialogue even when characters were interacting with each other. It was easy to follow with the images just jumping into your brain effortlessly. With the story so easy to consume, you have the extra energy available for important reflection.
The story is well paced as well; starting slowly with large scale splashes and small details, with an ending that accelerates and leaves you a little breathless, just wanting to sit and finish digesting the ideas. It was an enjoyable read for me, but a little intimate and definitely not for everyone.
Own for Sharing, Buy Ongoing, Trade Wait, Borrow, Ignore