Comic Reviews: Open Earth

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open-earth-splash
Scene over Earth, with a floating space station. In the right corner, two young men and one woman stand with the man in the middle draping his arms over the woman and the other man’s shoulders.

Open Earth is a short story, essentially, about the first generation of humans born in a space station orbiting Earth, after we have managed to ruin the planet/blow ourselves up or something. The main action centers on Rigo, as she tries to grapple with wanting a special attachment to her friend Carter, when the first generation is predominantly polyamorous and against partnered attachments.

Plot/Character: 6/10

The world-building in this piece is interesting. I’d say it is even a little exposition heavy in the first couple of pages. While the story may be a reflection of the author’s values, I really read it more as “what if polyamory in space.” Some of the events that led to making Earth uninhabitable echo current events, and in that, I feel like the work is timely.

However, I’m not sure that I can buy all the changes the author has put onto a single generation. These changes happen over time. Maybe, the third generation on the ship, we’d be seeing this deeply set culture that is so much different from their elders. I’ll accept it as part of the premise, but this is a bit like looking at The 100 and accepting that the Grounders have developed a language unintelligible from any previously known Earth language within a couple of generations. Culture shifts over time. Language takes a lot longer.

Thus, moving onto the language: The use of Spanglish is actually something we can believe realistically is spoken among the people of the space station. They all come from California, and while I don’t believe “Spanglish” would ever be declared the national language, I can easily see California, as a country on its own, declaring English and Spanish as the official languages because most of the residents at that point in the future spoke both. And thus, the children of the scientists from that generation would likewise just speak a mix of both as they moved from one to the other.

I’m talking more about world-building than characters, and… I don’t know. There just isn’t much character development. This story is really the setting, plus a vignette as Rigo has sex with her friends and tries to decide whether to move in with Carver. I don’t know much about her, other than she doesn’t like the food on the station, embraces the youth culture ideology, and is maybe a little immature and indecisive.

The other characters are pretty thinly sketched as well. Carver is scientific! Hex is political! Atwood is smart! Franklin is ???

And that’s it.

So concept over character in this case. It’s still an interesting read, even if the plot and characters are a little obvious and flat. You can guess that Rigo will decide to move in with Carver… but only after she talks with ALL OF HER FRIENDS ABOUT IT.

Art: 7/10

My rating for the art is based on a few things. The style does fit with keeping the tone light and open to comedy, and it is realistic enough, at least in the case of women’s bodies, to carry the sex scenes. It’s pleasant to look at, and suits a younger, fresher perspective as the narrative is trying to do

Where the art fails is in serious scenes and often in execution. There are a lot of problems with angles that I shouldn’t have to be noticing (because I wasn’t looking for problems). Bodies were just suddenly turned the wrong way, or the face was uncentered on the head.

The artist did for the most part manage to adapt an Anime-esque style for the plus size heroine, and I will give extra credit for that, since most Anime style seems unable to cope with bodies beyond toothpicks.

open-earth-burger
Rigo in the center of a polyamory sandwich with Carver and Atwood, while eating a burger.
This is a glorious panel.

Given this, it was irritating that the men were all sorted into slim and athletic or muscular and athletic. So much so that I really thought for the first half of the story that Carver was a woman until his sex scene with Rigo and was deeply, deeply disappointed suddenly that the multiracial, polyamorous, queer comic I had been reading was much less overtly progressive than I had thought.

Themes: 7/10

Our themes here focus on intergenerational divide and polyamory. Though, the latter is really a symptom of the former. I don’t know if either has adequately been developed, but I would say the tension is clearly present. It may be the only real reason Rigo feels like she has to keep pretending she doesn’t think of Carver as special.

I would, though, add that it was disappointing to go into this comic about a multicultural, polyamorous space station and have so little culture and so much heteronormativity. There’s nothing dividing the characters when it comes to jobs, as far as I can tell, but all of the sex scenes are between Rigo and one of her male friend/lovers. Franklin and Carver apparently couple sometimes, and in her dream Rigo and Atwood couple, but this isn’t “onscreen” for the most part. The main sexual tensions are between the male/female couplings. And language is the only remaining vestige of culture here, since there is no music and no food and not plot besides Rigo’s dilemma, and they are doing away with sexual mores.

I’m adding a few points for the symbolism of the succulent plants. Especially since it is unspoken, just something that Rigo keeps around. This is significant thematically regarding a community starting over in space: conservation of resources via a plant that doesn’t require constant watering.

In general, I think I would like the effort of the story to be punched up a bit on all levels. This is a quick, cute read. I enjoyed having a pansexual, polyamorous, plus size, Latina protagonist. Unlike some other readers, I don’t think this is a prologue, really. The story, as it is set out, is a complete arc about one decision our heroine is making over the course of one day. However, if the author were to expand her narrative, thinking about the larger story of the station, where things are going from here, what other stories might be told on the station or when the other ships are able to contact them…

That would be worthy of a longer series of graphic novels.

Review Xposted at Netgalley, Goodreads, and Midnight Voss’s blog.

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