THIS REVIEW OF ‘ALT-LIFE’ OGN CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Mickey Rivera. For nearly every creation myth there’s a corresponding apocalypse. Our enlightened contemporary age is no different. The Big Bang has a corresponding Big Lurch. Every star born to a glowing nebula will swell or explode in old age. Even Darwin’s Origin of Species, biology’s Book of Genesis, popularized principles of competition and scarcity that encouraged the industrial warfare and biome destruction which may ultimately curb the human race as we know it. However, our contemporary eschatologies are different from those of our more superstitious ancestors: we believe that if we’re crafty enough we can find a way to avoid total calamity.
In Alt-Life, a psychedelic graphic novel originally published in French and available now from Europe Comics, a society beset by an unspecified world-ending catastrophe solves the apocalypse by creating a simulated reality insulated from utter death and destruction. Inside this device you can literally create the world around you. Nearly any imaginable person or thing can be manifested simply by applying your imagination, and the laws of physics are only as steadfast as your inability to wonder how they might work differently. The longer you spend in the simulation the more your mind becomes accustomed to being able to control the world around it, like growing a new limb. Your body and your world slowly become entirely yours to do what you want with whomever you want. But while this malleable world expands the limits of experience, a post-human existence slowly reveals itself to be easily complicated by our primal human needs.
To test the technology before the remnants of this dying society all pile in, two young trailblazers named René and Josiane were chosen to go first. They’ve of course already had a fair amount of simulated reality recreation. Being denizens of a dystopian future, they can buy “relaxboxes,” or “pornboxes,” at any reputable retailer. But this experience is like nothing they’ve felt before. Almost every sense can be felt in high resolution, and the ability to alter surroundings has never been so powerful. With the limitless possibilities for self-discovery and creativity presented to them, it doesn’t take long for them to abandon each other’s company and use their near-omnipotence to have as much sex as humanly possible.
Though the automatons René and Josiane summon from their minds are talkable, touchable, and indeed fuckable individuals, they’re failings as true human beings are from the start. While they are always as gorgeous as you want them to be, and are perpetually down-to-fuck (so long as you ask politely), they’re not much for conversation and can’t offer anything you haven’t already thought of. The two trailblazers take to it differently. René can’t seem to get his rocks off without a challenge, and quickly gets bored and depressed. Josiane dives deep into her own fantasies of sex and novelty, materializing her imagination so forcefully that she nearly loses her mind.
As they both approach their psychological breaking points the real themes of Alt-Life come into focus. Given a new world whose contents and rules can be redefined at will, how would we go about remaining essentially ourselves when so much of our personality is built in response to factors outside of our control? How far could we push ourselves into previously impossible situations before we lose sight of what we’re essentially about at our core? Writer Thomas Cadène explores these questions with an engaging story that feels drenched in frustrated vitality. Alt-Life‘s characters are seeking escape from boredom and loneliness as much as from the apocalypse, but may only succeed in escaping the latter.
Artist Joseph Falzon is capable of Otomo-level detail, but applies a clinical approach to the classic clear-line style for Alt-Life. The human figures and spectacular creations presented to us are often beautifully flat, an uncanny mix of an illustrated safety guide and a ukiyo-e drawing. There’s some awkwardness in the faces that I’ll chalk up to stylistic choice, but any misgivings I had about it quickly washed away. As the imaginations of René and Josiane pour forth into the simulation, the level of detail stays clean and simple while discrete objects multiply into complex and bizarre fantasies of every shade and shape.
“Coloriste” Marie Galopin adds a consistent blend of bold but flat color that adds to the feeling of false reality. At key points there are stunning whirlwinds of surreal line and color that left me wide-eyed in wonder, while at other times the mystical simplicity of a lone panel was enough to send sparks through my mind. With its bright palette and minimal shadows, readers may feel a light-headed, disassociated calm wash over them while reading Falzon’s panels, which will give way to spikes of anxiety as it becomes clear that life as a demiurge has its own problems.
Alt-Life is lettered using cursive script, giving all speech a celestial quality, even when they’re talking about boredom and gangbangs. This is a book about an attempt to make a heaven out of hell. The angelic script in which all its characters speak is underscored by their triviality, their boredom, their resigned eagerness to be more than just their bodies. In other words, their utter humanity. Though this book lives inside a otherworldly science-fictional cocoon that is almost entirely devoid of recognizable politics, Cadène still manages to paint a striking portrait of the human condition within a post-human reality. Alt-Life is complex and simple, it’s true and it’s false, it’s psychedelic and mundane — but it’s totally worth your time.
Written by Thomas Cadène.
Art by Joseph Falzon.
Colors by Marie Galopin.
9 out of 10
You can buy ‘Alt-Life’ here.