Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends Lorena Alvarez’s ‘Hicotea: A Nightlights Story’, out now from Nobrow Press.

Required Reading: 'Hicotea'
Cover to ‘Hicotea’. Art: Lorena Alvarez/Nobrow Press

by Arpad Okay. Sandy is a space cadet, pen in hand and mind in the stars, Hicotea the cosmos she explores. Hicotea is the second Nightlights book, another one-and-done story of magical realism, our inquisitive heroine and the creatures she meets from the other side of the wall of dreams. Any artist who is fascinated with the natural world is going to end up facing life’s cycle and, if they have the wisdom, get witchy. Lorena Alvarez brings it all together, art and meaning in a turtle shell, pitch perfect.

So while the book is beautifully garbed in a rainbow robe of blossoms, full of art and nature worth pouring over outside of the flow of story, Hicotea is first concerned with Sandy. It’s her choice between a world of green and one of grey. Within the story is a lesson on the fragility of the natural world in which we reside, but the void that Sandy and Hicotea (docent, turtle) struggle against represents curiosity. The world of knowledge can seem like an endless gulf of unanswered questions. Without answers, the world grows and you don’t.

Hicotea says grow yourself. As a part of the planet, you share its nature. Within you is the same inexhaustible expansion that you are experiencing. Everything starts as a seed. Not there yet? Keep growing. There’s a Neverending Story parallel to kid, book in hand, against the void. And ask either a catalog-minded young person with a notebook or a hoarder of books particularly fond of fantasy stories—exploring something just makes it grow bigger.

Nature still has a powerful voice in Hicotea, but it is silent, in the art. Alvarez chooses colors that are luscious, verdant, and ripe. Even the burning orange of neon petals play to cool tones. The book is tranquil, clear like sunlight through canopy, bog water cloudy with moss. The gradients, the way the color lines lay against each other, their strength, looks like Alvarez is working acrylic on canvas. The book is shaped in colors vivid and certain.

The abundant plant life has craft precision to it, retro swing swag. Every branch, leaf, and berry is perfectly pinstriped in their placement, arranged  around and within a map the characters explore. The pages in Hicotea have character themselves, ideas and exhibits, natural patterns, a love for visual guides, art books, museums and collections all contributing to a dense and sumptuous side of the read.

The prominence of non-sequential storytelling draws a variety of comparisons from within the world of comics. Joe Sacco’s word balloon trails attempted to guide the eye the same way Alvarez will chain dialog to action in pages without panels. The story follows a visual flow, a multiple exposure montage to compliment the surrealist pace at which it can be viewed. Gasoline Alley did the map on the page with panels to stand for time as well as distance. In Hicotea, panels are used for perspective and not time.

Time frequently stops. This book is full of details, the command center in Hicotea is Hicotea, a tortoise TARDIS with infinite art inside. There’s an actual gallery, a collage table nearly a gallery itself, the meta-cute of Sandy’s notebook drawings of everything she sees; Hicotea is intended to regularly arrest the narrative with lavishly detailed sundries. And then kick-the-shell, Alice in Wonderland gravity takes effect and the drawing room clutter is airborne. Do you enjoy spending time in the aquarium when you are playing Animal Crossing? I have a book for you.

It’s a challenging read that rewards time spent in its pages. The echoes of reality and dreams play tag with the narrative, a story told frequently as a winding ribbon tied in bunches to dialog, bits of this finding home in parts of that. Hicotea is a bucolic celebration of life in and outside a narrative, a cultivation of beauty so tender that the pages have equal value to the plot. To stop isn’t to stop at all. Alvarez has written a daydreamer’s story in essence and execution, a conscious euphoria well worth getting lost in.

Nobrow Press / $18.95

Written by Lorena Alvarez.

Illustrated by Lorena Alvarez.

Lettered by Lorena Alvarez.

More Required Reading…

‘Ryuko’ a singular vision of terrific wrath and even fiercer mercy

‘The Hard Tomorrow’ an ambiguous, strong and delicate work from Eleanor Davis

‘Invisible Kingdom’ is a hyper-literate cosmic thrill