Celeste

CelesteSummary: In London, the moment two commuters, Aaron and Lilly, lay eyes on each other on a packed Monday morning tube train, everyone else around them vanishes. In Los Angeles, Ray is sitting in gridlock on the 405 Freeway when he receives a call from an LAPD officer with news about his wife. Ray fears the worst. But just as the officer is about to give Ray the news, he is cut off. The caller has disappeared, and so has everyone else around him. Everyone except for a badly beaten man tied up in the trunk of another car.

In Japan, comic artist Yoshi has come to the demon-haunted Aokigahara Forest to die, but the spirits of the forest have other ideas. Taking us through the deserted streets of London, the empty freeways of Los Angeles, and the dream world of the Aokigahara Forest, Celeste is a compelling and profound graphic novel about the choices we make and the courage it takes to make them.

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Celeste, by I.N.J. Culbard 7.25

‘Celeste’ is the debut solo outing by I.N.J. Culbard, an artist who has worked on ‘Judge Dredd’ and ‘Dark Horse Presents’ comics, and has adapted H.P. Lovecraft stories and other classics. It follows three characters from difference countries as they cope with the disappearance of all animal life on Earth.

I picked up the book right off of the shelf of my local library because it was on display; its stylish cover caught my eye. I was curious enough that I took a closer look at it the very same day and simply gobbled it up. In the matter of two relatively short bus rides, I had gotten through Culbard’s opus.

The basic concept of is somewhat familiar, and seems to be in vogue in recent years, what with ‘I Am Legend‘ and ‘Y: The Last Man’, but the approach is entirely different here: in ‘Celeste’, our three protagonists follow their own personal journeys, which never intersect or have any impact on each other.

  • In Britain, Lilly finds herself alone on the subway with Aaron, an androgynous young woman. Together they share their greatest fears, and develop a very close friendship. As far as they know, they are the only two people in the whole world.
  • In the United States, Ray finds himself stuck in congested traffic on the 405 Freeway just as he gets an emergency call about his spouse. As he makes his way home, he finds a man who was beaten and thrown into the trunk of another car…
  • In Japan, Yoshi is about to hang himself in Aokigahara (a.k.a. “Suicide Forest”) when he hears someone call out. He manages to extricate himself from his noose only to meet up with all manners of strange alien and demonic creatures.

‘Celeste’ obviously means to explore these characters’ misconceptions about their lives and the choices that they’ve made in them, and does so in a visually-remarkable fashion, from its silent opening panels all the way to its equally trippy close. One would be hard-pressed to criticize the quality of the art.

But the storytelling is sometimes a bit inscrutable: Were these three people actually alone in the world? If so, why? And why were two of them paired up but not the other? Or did they all dream or imagine this event at the same time in order to sort out their lives? And, if so, what’s their connection?

And what in the world is that pink petal? What’s its purpose?

Perhaps it was all made perfectly clear and I just didn’t get it. Still, it didn’t change my appreciation of the book: I loved its abstract nature, enjoyed its diverse stories, and found the art very pleasing. Most of all, though, ‘Celeste’ teased my brain a little bit – and not every book can make such a claim.

I’m very glad that I picked it up.

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