Lucas Varela’s wordless graphic novel is proof that you can tell a complex, adult story with nothing more than images. In lots of ways that’s a pretty banal statement. Pictograms are one of the oldest forms of language. But Varela uses his pictograms to depict a story that couldn’t be more relevant to the times in which we live.
There are a number of concurrent narratives, which helps on the old complexity front: we first meet an ill-tempered man as he considers suicide in a toilet cubicle, his demise forestalled by another (a friend? a brother?) who takes him home and feeds him – a piece of fruit full of a maggoty life form. A thinner man (whose face graces the cover) finds a postcard the would-be suicide left in the can of a resort (we imagine) called Paraiso. This is a world in which people need their dreams.
Meanwhile, a UFO crash lands. A creature emerges from a suitcase and heads off across the desert only to be intercepted by some angry looking police sorts. The alien is locked up (although not for long) and his Tardis-like case is explored (with disastrous effects for those immediately concerned). At which point, a shift of sorts: this is a world dominated by two major corporations, one fronted by a sort of white bunny and one fronted by a sort of red cat. The bunny hates the cat and the cat hates the bunny. And people who buy bunny products hate cat products and vice versa. Each corporation hates the other.
The body of the book concerns two separate plots – one corporation using the alien case to destroy the other, the other using a large, conflicted killer robot to enact a terrible vengeance. Other reviewers have drawn attention to similarities between this book and the Terry Gilliam film, Brazil, and there are certainly nods but The Longest Day of the Future is a powerful and resonant entertainment in its own right.
Let’s talk art first. Varela is great on intricate detail. If you are a fan of Geof Darrow (check out Frank Miller’s Hard Boiled if you want to see Darrow at his best), you’ll lap up this like warm milk. In terms of the narrative, it has about it something of the video game – think Abe’s Odyssee: dysfunctional futures in which the little people are but pawns on the chessboard of large businesses. Christ, imagine living in a world like that. Varela is also canny enough to ensure his wordless metaphors translate according to whichever part of the world you find yourself, whether that’s the Brexit of the UK, the freewheeling governmentlessness of recent Spanish history, the horror of the US presidential elections… By which we mean to say that The Longest Day of the Future could well resonate with you wherever you live.
Like Tom Gauld’s recent Mooncop, there are sweet wistful moments here, possible finer human feelings glimpsed between the cracks of the modern world, people yearning for something more even as everything fine and good is reduced to an opinion on a fucking brand. Unlike Mooncop, Varela isn’t about to make it easy on you and this is one you may want to wrestle with. This is a book that is crusty and irascible in some ways (you can tell there are things about the modern world that get Varela’s goat, and well they might), but the more you rub up against it, the more beauty you’ll see, the more intelligence, the more wit, the more piss and vinegar. There is clamour and noise here (you can see it in the ZANK ZANK ZANK above, right?) but Varela is making a point (he’s shooting and frequently scoring too). Obviously there will be people for whom a wordless graphic novel is a step too far but we would implore those people (and all good right-minded people with half a brain) to give this a go. Varela is a writer we would like to see a lot more of and if that takes the kind of encouragement provided by vast scores of readers willing to shell out on his book well then so be it. Get shelling out people.
Any Cop?: This is a kind of gem – the kind of gem that snags your attention as you pass by on the street in the rain, and you pick it up and rub it against your sleeve and you can’t quite tell what it is but there’s something there all the same, something beguiling. By the time you get home, you’re basically Gollum. And this is your precious.