Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, where each week one of our contributors goes crazy over a book they just can’t seem to get enough of. This week, Jarrod recommends ‘The Retreat’, available now from Humanoids.

Cover to 'The Retreat'. Art by Tom Tirabosco/Humanoids

Cover to ‘The Retreat’. Art by Tom Tirabosco/Humanoids

By Jarrod Jones. If you’ve ever lost someone you care about, you know all about that empty feeling that comes once it’s sunk in. They’re gone. It might be that part of you left with them. Where do you go to reconcile that kind of loss? Who do you turn to?

The Retreat doesn’t presume to answer either of those questions, and that’s for the best. It’s not a manual for coping. It’s a comic about persevering. A story about Igor and Serge, two friends who set out to the country for reflection after losing their best friend, Matt. It sounds glum, and when you gaze into Tom Tirabosco’s slate-gray skies and charcoal-filled shadows, it can certainly look it. With The Retreat, you can project any number of feelings onto the panels in front of you and most of them would fit perfectly. It’s familiar, because loss is familiar.

It’s when the story reveals itself to be a three-man show that the book sinks its hooks into you. Three friends. Igor, Serge, and Matt. Three big personalities, often colliding into one another. Especially in small cars, which carry them into the mountains at different points in time earlier in the book. You should know that The Retreat jumps around in its chronology, but it keeps a laser focus on its trio of characters. Trust Pierre Wazem, a comics scribe in every sense of the term. And don’t worry about getting lost in a temporal haze; Tirabosco has your back.

The craft on display here demands that you settle in for the duration. The details are all there, which makes scrutinizing them after your first read a rewarding experience. But those details never distract you. Wazem and Tirabosco’s sleight of hand doesn’t come from what they show. It’s from what is said from their characters, and a lot of the time, what isn’t said.

There’s Igor. He looks at the waterfalls and the pine trees and comments on how dreary the country can be. He’s a cerebral kind of guy. Serge, on the other hand, is strictly blue-collar. He isn’t an artist like Matt was. He doesn’t have an analytical mind like Igor. Serge works all the time because that’s what he knows: He needs to take care of his wife and keep his little carved-out part of the world in order. Vacations in the mountains, Igor says earlier on, are an extravagance. It’s likely one of the few things Serge would agree with him on.

Pierre Wazem imbues his three characters with polarized personalities. A grunt like Serge and a brain like Igor could only ever be friends through an intermediary. That was Matt, big-hearted, patient, and kind. Serge was great friends with Matt. Igor was great friends with Matt. Igor and Serge were never really close, and now that Matt’s gone, all Serge and Igor have are each other.

Interior page from 'The Retreat'. Art by Tom Tirabosco/Humanoids

Interior page from ‘The Retreat’. Art by Tom Tirabosco/Humanoids

The Retreat can be ominous, too. Serge and Igor drive through a tourist-trap village and come upon a fleeting memory of happier times with Matt. It’s here where Wazem spaces out the panels with silence, meant to maximize the pangs of regret those memories provide. That the following page contains nothing but a black void, that regret is quickly followed by despair.

But that void, like so much in The Retreat, isn’t what it appears to be. It’s a portal, and on the other side is a glimpse at Igor and Serge’s spent yesterdays with their fallen comrade. It’s in these sequences where the humor of The Retreat presents itself. Randy jokes and pissing contests. All of this underscores how much life has passed between these guys. How often they’ve been there for each other, how often they’ve dismissed each other, and in one case, what each of them has taken from one another. Think The Big Chill, but on a micro level.

About halfway through we come to discover that there’s an aura of doubt surrounding Matt’s death. Those details begin to stack up, as the story jumps back and forth between past and present. Matt was trying to tell us something, Serge insists. Igor, with his clockwork mind, is convinced their friend’s death was an accident.

Before we know it, just as we’re getting to know Matt and how he related to Serge and Igor, the black page pops back in and Matt is gone. Here, Wazem lets Tirabosco go to work on his pages, which are filled with long shadows and longer faces. Wazem’s silence allows the reader to really consider the doubt in their hearts and what kind of hope they hang onto in spite of it. In moments like these The Retreat moves in for the kill.

There are five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — and Serge rifles through most of them. Igor jumps straight to acceptance — Matt slipped, Matt fell, and Matt died. It’s the simplest explanation, the one that requires the least amount of introspection. Serge argues that the signs were all there — Matt wanted to die, but he wanted to say goodbye. What’s the truth? Does it even matter? The answer to that, like most everything else about The Retreat, depends on what you carry with you.

Humanoids/$14.95 – £12.99

Written by Pierre Wazem.

Art by Tom Tirabosco.

Translated by Mark Bence.

Art direction by Jerry Frissen.