Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends Eleanor Davis’ ‘The Hard Tomorrow’, out now from Drawn & Quarterly.

Cover to ‘The Hard Tomorrow’. Art: Eleanor Davis/Drawn & Quarterly

by Arpad Okay. Eleanor Davis has written a crime story, a pulp, so naturally it’s a tragedy. The Hard Tomorrow is neither murder nor heist, but crime like civil disobedience and peaceful protest. It is to be in love with the tenacity of life. The Hard Tomorrow is to walk with ghosts, history, and danger.

Imagine trying to build a house and have a baby, to keep friendships strong and lend strength to the community. A turbulent few months in the life of a woman clinging to what matters as tyrants push the needle towards dystopia. Davis’ tomorrow is ours, of course.

What it reminds me of is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. A story that’s for those who come after us, that tries to tell history as it happens to us. That it is a history that hasn’t happened yet is just a detail. The Hard Tomorrow is an intersectional discourse on the struggle. Power and its corrupt practices, how we deal with living in their world, how the system treats resistance. Radical slice o’ life.

How do you deescalate the police state?

How do we create change?

How do we become stronger?

How do we remain tender?

We keep going without answers.

Davis’ work is such that you feel like you understand the nature of questions like these while you are immersed in the story, but close the book and it becomes that ineffable, delicious, maddening feeling of trying to keep a dream. The Hard Tomorrow is an ambiguous work. It is strong and delicate. A tender hand draws a sensitive story.

The art gives a weight to bodies. Davis draws thick heads, thick arms. Strength. Flowing lines though, not bulk, but full with being; dynamic figures. The otherworldly density and grace of sculptures from antiquity. They have stepped down from the pedestal, off the bas-relief, and acquired beautiful details that come from a confident drawing hand. Swoopy lines that follow the rule of what looks good more than what’s real.

Davis’ line is flowing but tight like Tove Jansson or Taiyo Matsumoto. The leaf patterns, really the whole lot where they’re building the house, could be in Moominvalley. The plants and landscape have that informed-by-antiques beauty. Davis has a style within her style for scaling down smaller drawings that’s delightful. It’s busy in panels and pages. In The Hard Tomorrow as a whole, black and white occupies a timing across the book, kind of a layout thing, more a rhythm thing. Clear skies and storms.

Davis cuts deep with expressions. Hurt really comes across. Joy and love come to life in her eyes. Even when reduced down to pop art basics, Davis’ figures can silently project mood with their body language. Human details writ larger than their source, cartoons, they help Davis tell a people story that communicates on a level of authenticity normally reserved for film or the stage. I think it’s in our nature to look for body language when interpreting emotions, and the subtle familiarity of The Hard Tomorrow feels so natural, you fall into it.

Your relationship with everyone in the book deepens. Not a sympathy for the billy club kind of connection—you’re not going to be compelled to befriend fascists. Your feelings open, to comprehend these heroes and villains from a fuller perspective. You never know who is going to teach you strength. You can’t anticipate whom you will have compassion towards.

The Hard Tomorrow has powerful art you want to linger on. Compelling story you want to devour. The best push and pull, right? And with Eleanor Davis, one read is never enough. There is a complexity within her narratives that only reveals itself patiently.

Davis has the talent and flexibility to tell a highly structured, directed story so that no one can see the strings. It’s just a drama, following the lives of a bunch of people in a setting that feels so close one forgets that this is a work of fiction. The Hard Tomorrow never happened to anybody. Good or bad, there’s some tragedy for you.

Drawn & Quarterly / $24.95

Written and illustrated by Eleanor Davis.

More Required Reading…

‘Invisible Kingdom’ is a hyper-literate cosmic thrill

The Talbots’ ‘Rain’ a work of sublime tactile beauty

‘Misty Presents The Jordi Badia Romero Collection’ an exquisite macabre treasure