Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened once a month to champion a book that we adore and you should read. The latest: Niv Sekar’s Love in Space, available now from ShortBox.

by Arpad Okay. Mimi Holywater doesn’t feel like there’s much of a future for her here on Earth. Mimi’s from the future, our future, but in Niv Sekar’s Love in Space, a one-shot mini-comic from ShortBox, tomorrow still sucks as bad as today does. A reality TV show gave her an escape: want off this rock? Contestants on our show have a chance to win an all-expenses paid trip into the arms of the unknown. An alien race is dying out, you’re single, and the viewing audience loves a good opposites-attract romance. For science, for entertainment, Mimi flies seventeen years through the cosmos to go on a year-long blind date.

She’s run away to a whole other star system only to find the same problems waiting for her. It hits different in space, though. On our planet, we’ve been waiting for the end, the other shoe to drop, for hundreds of years. We’ve got our eyes on the horizon (while we fuck up the present) because we’re worried about the kind of world we’ll leave behind for the children that come after us. With Mimi’s new family, there is no next generation.

The aliens are a refugee community who have exhausted all they have to get to the Milky Way. There isn’t anything in the US national budget for sending aid into space, even NASA was scuttled a while back. But it is a compelling idea for a television show, isn’t it? Only one season though. So while there might not be much hope for their survival as beings, if they can find a foothold among the interests of the universe’s premier archivists, maybe their culture will endure after they disappear.

Mimi’s new partner is named Armor, though he looks exactly like his sister Terror, and every other sentient being on the ship (besides Mimi). A giant clear glob with sparkles floating around in it. Somewhere between a gumdrop and a bedsheet ghost without any eye holes, or a glitter water wand and those cross-section diagrams of a cell from biology class. Armor is gracious, making their home Mimi’s. The way they live is populated with concepts we understand and share—classroom, dinner table, towel—although they look like plants from the bottom of the sea or fungal growths instead of furniture. But, in a few hundred days for Mimi and a few dozen pages for the reader, any difference melts away; what seemed exotic is familiar. And incredibly, incredibly sad.

Armor should have lived to be two hundred years old and he’s dying at fifty. Everyone’s that way. They took too long to get to safety and none of the babies made it. Some of the kids might. Even so, Armor, Mimi, and all the folks following along at home are forced to confront the irrevocability of mortality. Time has run out of tomorrows.

We get their story in pieces, the good and the bad. The times the cameras were rolling. Fleeting vignettes, anchored to the page with permanency that comes from Sekar’s art style. The weight is in her unwaveringly certain contour lines and page-conscious use of negative space. Future fashion outfits look more like costumes from a silent era Méliès film or pre-war Flash Gordon Sunday strips than the austerity found in 2001, which suits Sekar’s old time magazine illustrations vibe of the science fiction. It reminds me of Sophia Foster-Dimino’s work in the cyberpunk volume of Ex.Mag, though Sekar’s art is much inkier, like something that came from Ft. Thunder. Emotional turbulence conveyed with melancholy and quiet restraint. It would be easy to take the idea of dystopic reality television and make a garish point, but Sekar’s work is the patient poetry of empathy.

Love in Space isn’t about mourning the lack of tomorrow, it’s about facing the end of what you love now, the loss of something you will have a hard time living without. Being forced to let go, the grief that remains when someone is taken before their time, there is no bell that rings louder. This is your life, right here, right now. Confronting that is terrifying. It’s what sent Mimi running from Earth into the arms of a living Warhol Silver Cloud. Now is all the time you have.

As a storyteller, Sekar reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut. All these ideas about mortality and asylum, scarcity and fitting in, sex and boredom, are laid out with honesty and brevity and, most of all, care. Sekar doesn’t tell you what to think; she shows you in earnest, and trusts you to feel.

And you will feel. The narrative device was supposed to track things in terms of TV. Day 1, the meet-cute. Day 91, school visit. Day 198, Mimi is introduced to Armor’s parents.  Day 234, Armor has trouble getting out of bed. Armor is taking it one day at a time, too. Because that’s all you can do. Accepting fate without resigning hope. The time you have. One year as an alien bride. A seventeen year journey there, and the same going back, three dozen years after your votes sent her into space! The tapes! Return! And the fans who are old enough to remember (ask your folks, kids) finally get the other half of their show.

ShortBox / £8.00
Written and illustrated by Niv Sekar.

Love in Space is available now. For purchasing information, click this.

Check out this 3-page preview of Love in Space, courtesy of ShortBox:

More Required Reading:

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant is a sumptuous comics strip that is still taking cartoonists to school

Jonathan Case’s Little Monarchs illustrates how power comes from perseverance

Czap’s posi-political manifesto Fütchi Perf is a work of radical softness