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Comics post: Afar

Afar is a graphic novel written by Leila Del Duca (better known for her artist work on Sleepless and, more recently, the Superman/Wonder Woman crossover), with art by Kit Seaton. It was published by Image Comics and came out in a one-volume TPB edition in 2017.

Image source: Image Comics website

I don’t think this comic book is very good. The story ends a bit abruptly, although a few narrative nodes are solved by the end of the volume. The answers offered about the perils encountered during the story seem childish and simplistic, and yet they work as efficiently as a soothing morning cartoon. So, why pick it up for a full post? Well, for some reason, the story stayed with me. I forget a lot of what I read, because a lot of it is forgettable. But a spark of Afar remained, and I still find it my mind when I’m specifically looking for what it nailed so beautifully: the fundamental idea that you can be someone else in some other place. This is indeed one of the main narrative threads of Afar: one of the two protagonists, who has given her name to the series, suddenly discovers her ability to inhabit other people’s lives in her dreams through some kind of mystical astral projection. Although the story is set on Earth in some sort of post-apocalyptic far future which bears no cultural connection to the world as we know it, this ability allows Afar to visit other planets, interact with weird aliens, and eventually meddle with their lives.

Image source: womenwriteaboutcomics.com

There is quite often no particular point in these sequences. They are just fun, and rather beautifully illustrated. They often depict some ordinary piece of alien life. From time to time you get some grand mystical explanations, but they really don’t explain anything nor do they mean to: they are just there to give a greater setting, to put words into things, to make it more easily graspable. And so, through this fictional and convenient device, Afar illustrates wonderfully one of the hidden potencies of a story: to carry you away to worlds and people far off. Escapism, you might say. But I will follow Tolkien's example On Fairy Tales and invoke the Mooreeffoc effect. No, these ventures into otherness are fundamentally a way to show you that things you take for granted and normal might just be culturally entrenched, and would appear in a completely different light when seen from a different worldview. By giving you a sneak peek of different ways of life, fiction tells you that things could be otherwise. It’s like visiting the parameter space of a mathematical model. You’re bound to a given culture, a given path of life, a given value of the parameters that be, but through fiction, you may explore entirely different paradigms. And to know that, all of that, in much better clarity that I am trying to explain here, I just have to bring in mind a specific comic book.

Image source: Image Comics website

It also does something else. This astral projection stuff is only one thread of the story. There is another thread, probably more prominent if less impactful. It’s a rather standard story of learning how to become an adult in a world that may be tougher than you would like. But it’s pleasant enough, and here again it does one thing right: it really offers you a setting that is afar from what you usually know. Future Earth bears little resemblance to ours. There are new cultural and social codes, and you need to get used to them. You cannot just arrive with your own set of values and moral convictions and expect everyone to comply. If I did enjoy this, it’s because of how it contrasts with other pieces of work in which Fantasy is just a game of dressing up, but the characters are still an American bunch of people facing a world with American values (or a chosen subset of those). This is literally the case in Kieron Gillen’s DIE – and at least it’s upfront about it: somehow it’s precisely the point of the story. This is also the case in Ladyscastle, Norroway, or even Heathen. These may be good stories, they may be fun, interesting, or gripping (or none of that), but in the end, and despite their alleged Fantasy/Fairy Tale/mythological setting, they don’t offer a new paradigm, a new vantage point on the world, they don’t twist your mind into a wholly different perspective. It’s all right –their purpose lies elsewhere, and not all stories serve the same functions. But I do like these out-of-body voyages, and this is what I expect from a story that is branded as Fantasy.

Image source: opb.org

I’ll conclude with a brief note on board games, as is fitting. I love Fantasy board games. And when I play a Fantasy board game, I want very much to be able to embody characters that are nothing like me. I’m pleased to play the Lizard in Runebound. Or the old military dwarf in Aventuria. Or the triangle worshipper in Bullet. Because in the end, there isn't a more genuine exploration than exploring different ways of seeing the universe we all share, even though these are the paths the most remote to us. And I just wish I could astrally project into them.

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Gloomknight
Gloomknight
Apr 16, 2021

You’ve convinced me to check this one out, Zerbique. As usual, your article is very profound. Your definition of “Fantasy” is refreshing for someone like me who always struggles to define it. It’s not always about Halflings and Unicorns, but sometimes another place that redefines our expectations. This could be any time or place that subverts our reality into the unknown, which is precisely the type of adventure I often seek. I haven’t finished the Fable series, although I loved The Wolf Among Us by Telltale Games. I’d also like to suggest Robert Monroe’s Journeys Trilogy to you or anyone who is interested in Astral Travel. To say that these books were life-altering for me would be an understatement.


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Gloomknight
Gloomknight
Apr 17, 2021
Replying to

The first book is a slow introduction to the topic. Monroe has some strange experiences and tries to log just about anything he can. He also takes the time to set up his backround and the reason he is interested in studying this field. The second book really jump-started the topic for me. It opened my eyes to a whole new limitless world of discovery. I would encourage anyone who is interested to try and get through that first book. Introductions can often times lead to a slog. Reading the second and third book changed my outlook on life, religion, and the basic principles of human existence. Why are we here, what is our purpose? Those are some of the…

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Cadet Stimpy
Cadet Stimpy
Apr 16, 2021

On a side note... You're a physicist, Z? That's so awesome! If someone asked me what a physicist did, I'd say, "They pretty much just try to figure-out how gravity works." But, that's probably incorrect.


A question from Steven Wright that I've always wondered about: "If you were in a vehicle and you were traveling at the speed of light and then you turned your lights on, would they do anything?"


Your wife is a scientist, too? That is so bad-ass! What's her field?

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Zerbique
Zerbique
Apr 17, 2021
Replying to

Ha ha, Foucault never spoke about a fish tank after all! It was Veyne, one of his follower, and I am not even sure fish tank is the correct translation. Anyway, the idea is roughly there, and I like to picture us humans as fatty lazy fishes.


Besides, it strengthens the link with Afar (the picture above is from the book): the whole point is that I believe in our ability to visit other fish tanks.


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Cadet Stimpy
Cadet Stimpy
Apr 16, 2021

Z, so is "TPB" when a series of comic books is reprinted in a one book format? That seems pretty cool.


I haven't bought any comic books for decades. Do they still have ads for Sea Monkeys, Secret Decoder Rings (what a great flick - the guy on the radio sounds like Rush Limbaugh to me), and X-ray glasses (I always liked this commercial)?


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Cadet Stimpy
Cadet Stimpy
Apr 16, 2021
Replying to

Hardcover comics? No ads for Sea Monkeys? Sounds nice. 🙂

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Athena
Athena
Apr 16, 2021

I'll be following your comics series with interest, Zerbique. I know almost nothing about graphic novels and this is a good chance to get acquainted with some of them through your eyes.

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Zerbique
Zerbique
Apr 16, 2021
Replying to

Yet somehow Fantasy comics are not as varied as I would want them to be...

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