THIS REVIEW OF ‘CALEXIT VOL. 1’ IS SPOILER-FREE.
By Mickey Rivera. Extreme circumstances call for an extreme response, and sometimes that means buckling down, forming an armed resistance, and declaring yourself a sovereign country. Calexit is a tense alt-history action comic mixed with breezy wisecracking and all-too prescient social commentary. Premised on the idea that an iron-fisted demagogue (who looks a lot like Donald Trump) is elected United States President, then enacts a zero-tolerance illegal immigrant deportation policy (that looks a lot like Trump’s immigration policy). California declares itself a sanctuary state in response, refusing to detain immigrants, prompting armed right wing groups in and around the state’s capitol, Sacramento, to declare sovereignty.
This group of loyalist militias proceeds to cut off water and agriculture supplies to the state’s liberal strongholds, Los Angeles and San Francisco—an act that prompts armed left wing organizations to form as a response. The situation escalates to the point that the President orders Homeland Security to invade California.
Writer Matteo Pizzolo has seriously thought this book through in terms of worldbuilding. The concept initially came to him not as a result of Trump’s presidency, but in response to the record-breaking drought in California. Coming at it from the angle of resources and geography (going so far as to include maps of occupied California demarcating areas held by rebels, militias, and government forces) gives the premise an extra layer of uncomfortable realism.
The plot itself focuses on characters on both sides of the conflict, but zeroes in on a slick courier named Jamil who considers himself neutral. Not wanting to make enemies and thus flub his chances of making as much money a possible delivering drugs and other contraband across factional borders, he does whatever possible to be likable to everyone he comes across, fascist and rebel alike. (It’s just good business practice.) On the other side of the spectrum is Zola, a fierce and determined immigrant resistant leader who is relentlessly hunted and terrorized by Homeland Security. Lastly, Homeland Security and those far right militias play host to cold and ruthless soldiers and officers, chief among them a murderous Steve Jobs look alike.
Creating a mutated doppelgänger world where the tensions of contemporary politics have room to go haywire and explode, Calexit is exciting and engrossing while simultaneously disturbing in its implications. Reading it gave me a strange sense that we’re just an ecological crisis or economic disaster away from Syria-level civil war at any given moment. That’s likely the exact feeling Pizzolo was going for, having gone to great lengths to present Calexit as a mirror to our world. To maximize this—and perhaps add a bit of extra levity—artist Amancay Nahuelpan throws in spot-on likenesses such as that psychopathic Steve Jobs look-alike, or a militia leader who is without a doubt visually modeled after Steve Bannon.
But for all its real-world references, Calexit has its own stylized version of Caliornia that glows with color and kinetic artwork thanks to the brilliant efforts of Nahuelpan, Boss, and Cunniffe. The action and dialogue are at turns hilarious, insightful, and press all the right ideological buttons. Reading it feels strange, like I’m having fun at the expense very real problems, but ultimately it’s enlightening.
The question raised in Calexit mirrors the question raised by DMZ, a similar alternate reality comic that spoke directly to post-9/11, Bush-era concerns: What would it look like if the ideological divisions we see in everyday life and in the media were amplified to the point of large scale physical conflict? Calexit is a thought experiment through which we see this ideological divide crescendo, then play out in the form of a wickedly exciting tale of resistance and revolution.
Black Mask Studios/$14.99
Written by Matteo Pizzolo.
Illustrated by Amancay Nahuelpan.
Colors by Tyler Boss.
Flats by Dee Cunniffe.
Lettered by Jim Campbell.
8.5 out of 10
‘Calexit Vol. 1’ is available now in comic shops. It hits bookstores August 14.. You can purchase it here.
Check out this six-page preview of ‘Calexit Vol.1’, courtesy of Black Mask Studios!