Saturday, 5 April 2014

Celeste by INJ Culbard Review


A man is stuck in Los Angeles traffic when he receives a call from the police about his wife; an albino woman sees a brunette on the London Underground; a Japanese cartoonist goes to the Aokigahara forest at the base of Mount Fuji to commit suicide. 

Stop. 

All of a sudden, everyone in the world disappears except for these people. But how and, more importantly, why? 

INJ Culbard’s graphic novel Celeste is the first time he’s both drawn and written a book, and it’s a triumphant effort. Celeste mixes in multiple genres from magical realism to horror fantasy, crime thrillers and contemporary romance in a potent, compelling and mysterious story. 

The book is a thrilling read on a purely surface level. Culbard switches perspective on the characters every couple pages to keep all three stories spinning simultaneously. Ray Bone’s story is perhaps the most exciting. After being called by the police, the call cuts off suddenly and he realises everyone in LA has gone. But he hears a thumping from a car boot and a man leaps out, tied, with blood all over his face. As the two try to figure out what happened, Ray discovers he has more of a connection to this strange man than he first thought when he discovers his home address in the man’s car - but who is he and could he be connected to the police phone call about his wife? 

Lilly and Aaron’s story in London is a whimsical and sweet story of two lonely women finding one another and connecting. They enjoy their sudden isolation in one of the biggest cities in the world and treat themselves to a champagne breakfast before running through a deserted London. 

The Japanese man’s story (he’s called Yoshi in the blurb but his name is never mentioned in the book) is darker at first but becomes eerie and fantastical as he goes from attempting to hang himself to struggling to survive in a haunted forest suddenly teeming with purple cats, lizard and bird-faced people, cyclopes, and giant red demons! 

Visually and narratively all of their stories are stunning to read - but there’s more going on beneath the surface. Culbard initially frames the story with a terrific zoom in from beyond the cosmos, closing in panel by panel to Earth, as a small pink flake (like a blossom petal) reaches each one of our characters, while the moon itself hangs prominently in the background, watching events unfold. 

Like a lot of great sci-fi stories, Celeste is an impressionistic tale that asks many questions of the reader without providing literal answers. Culbard is inviting readers to think about the meaning behind the characters’ stories and what they mean. What is the pink flake - is it a cosmic being, like god, and does its presence symbolise a higher power offering them a second chance? Is this a dream or is it really happening? In literature, the moon has many meanings but it’s often associated with change, either rebirth or death, which could mean many things for our characters. As they face the realities of their lives, stripped of all distraction, do they falter in the face of the hard decisions or will they be victorious? 

Celeste is an outstanding story of people caught at a crucial crossroads in their lives and forced into confronting their fears, told in an enthralling yet thoughtful narrative with gorgeous artwork throughout. Culbard proves decisively that he’s an accomplished writer as well as an artist with this marvellous book. Definitely check out Celeste - don’t miss one of the most enchanting comics of the year!

Celeste

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