ARCA. IDW Publishing. w. Van Jensen. a. Jesse Lonergan. 176 pp. $16.99
Welcome to your next favorite dystopian graphic novel. This is a devilishly good take on the one-percenters behaving badly trope. The focus is on Effie, short for Persephone. She is one of “the settlers,” the youth who are in servitude to “the citizens.” When settlers turn eighteen, they are promoted to something better, although it is unclear what that is. Earth, they’re told, had to be abandoned because of all the usual reasons and so everyone is on this spaceship heading towards “Eden.” But Effie isn’t buying it and it’s up to her to figure out what is really happening.
Things are not what they seem; they never are. The more twisted the reality, the more profound the journey to find out the truth. This is what makes Effie’s journey so dangerous–and compelling for the reader. From the very beginning, I was intrigued by all the heaviness hanging over Effie. Heck, the first page has Effie flying in a plane full of skeletons. She goes for the emergency exit, yanks open the door, and gasps for air when she’s flung out into outer space. It’s a nightmare but, her wide-awake world isn’t much better. Effie is constantly being monitored. People are disappearing. She risks her life every day for the chance to read a book. She’s not even supposed to know how to read.
Van Jensen (Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern) knows how to write a slow burn story with a propulsive bite. Jesse Lonergan (Hedra, Planet Paradise) has a loose and lively drawing style. Together, they bring to life a quirky and moody sci-fi thriller. Everything about this story gives off a disturbing and muted vibe, like you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be, finding out secrets you shouldn’t know. In this low-key and understated world, Effie is queen. She is a very reserved person forced to push back, and bit by bit, in a quiet and determined way, she gets closer to her would-be killers. Like any good work of science fiction, you get hooked in by the weird kid in the corner who nobody notices, until they need a hero.
A few notes on the art. I’m really pleased to see Lonergan having fun and experimenting. He spills over all the action, including the atmosphere, into various panels in unexpected and creative ways. There’s a moment when a glass full of eyeballs (don’t ask) is knocked over flinging eyeballs that bounce from panel to panel. This approach is part of Lonergan’s signature style and he does it very well with bookshelves, crowd scenes and things that go boom. The color is also applied in a dreamy and spacey way (soft watercolors that glide and pop) that compliments this more loose and fluid way of drawing. Nathan Widick brings home lettering and design that is spot on. The final results are fantastic and a joy to take in. I’d love to have him help me with my next comics project.
Science fiction means a lot of things. Often, we’re working with a vocabulary, both written and visual, going back to classic 1950s pulp-style science fiction. This book is in that spirit and turns it on its head. Effie is a classic sci-fi hero, unlikely and unassuming. But she’s not a shrinking violet. She’s more of a lone wolf. Leave her alone unless you need her. The best science fiction is not just about the future, robots and time travel. No, the best science fiction is about people. Readers want that; they hunger for it. This is a clever dystopian graphic novel following the rhythms of a bookish lone wolf. And remember, she’s not even supposed to know how to read. The elites don’t have a clue who they’re messing with. But now you do.
ARCA is available on July 11, 2023. You can pre-order it here.
2 responses to “ARCA by Van Jensen & Jesse Lonergan review–clever dystopian graphic novel”
I’m pretty interested in this one. I like the style but I especially like this dystopian story. It seems very deep and smart.
It’s an excellent choice from some of the best talent in comics.