by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + American Happy To Be In Cali…
Sometimes creative expression hits too close to home — and a nerve.
That’s definitely the case with CALEXIT, a comic book series depicting a hypothetical California secession from these not-so-United States. The secession is precipitated, of course, by the election of a certain orange fascist…
Written by Matteo Pizzolo and illustrated by Amancay Nahuelpan, the comic book comes from indie publisher Black Mask Studios, which is “bringing the punk rock ethic to comics.” CALEXIT’s pages express this punk attitude with somewhat raw drawings, extreme violence, gratuitous nudity, and a full-on rebellion by young people in (what else?) Antifa-style black masks. As the Black Mask site describes it, “resisting oppression, punching Nazis, protecting each other, kicking ass, and demanding liberty for all.”
(By the way, given the incendiary subject, it’s only appropriate that I read this comic book using a Kindle app. CALEXIT is the first comic book I’ve read using Kindle for the iPad, and I enjoyed the somewhat cinematic experience, with automated zooming and panning with each click.)
Now while the comic book is pure dystopian fantasy — I did find the over-the-top violence stretching credulity, with a villainous bureaucrat knifing innocent people in their homes, and Homeland Security thugs flame-throwing entire neighborhoods — Pizzolo’s own thoughts seem rational.
In a well-written editorial in the back of the comic book, he acknowledges that “any secession would likely lead to a civil war within California before the US military could even get their boots on,” noting that the state is politically diverse, depending on whose territory you happen to drive through.
Point made, he then lists several noteworthy events after he started developing CALEXIT in 2016, from Trump’s huuuuge election loss in the Golden State, to an actual CALEXIT movement (“a Russian scam,” Pizzolo notes), to California thumbing its nose at Trump by discussing climate change directly with China. These events galvanized Pizzolo’s crew to not only create the comic series, but also to keep it “recontextualized in real time.”
To provide that context, Pizzolo has interviewed such noted activists as Lexi Alexander, Bill Ayers, and Amanda Weaver, with excerpts printed in the back of the book and full interviews on the CALEXIT Comic website. I found those interviews intriguing and inspiring. I wish I could say the same about the ultra-violent story.
Obviously, going topical and fantasizing about violent revolution in contentious times will generate controversy and notoriety — NPR garnered backlash from Trumpists just for tweeting the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July. So CALEXIT is also scoring press coverage that most indie comics could only dream of, as well as hateful comments on its page at Amazon. And to that I say, go Black Mask Studios!
That said, even though I’m a hardcore Blue Stater living in one the most liberal parts of California, and even though I cringe at every policy and tweet spewed out by the Trump regime, and even though I celebrate every bit of resistance by California’s politicians against Trump, I didn’t find myself elated or encouraged by CALEXIT’s first issue (no binge-reading here — subsequent issues are yet to come). I found myself depressed.
CALEXIT is no romanticized revolution against tyranny; it’s an orgy of extreme violence and seething hatred. And maybe that’s a good thing, because if California did secede, that’s likely what would transpire. So maybe future issues of CALEXIT should go even further over the top to keep any idea of secession as just a fantasy.
Disclaimer: I never read issue #1, just #2 and #3. My lack of the first issue may color my perception of the story.
I kinda liked the over-the-top nature of the story. However, I liked it better before I read Pizzolo’s notes at the end. At first, before I read the author’s notes, I thought this was purely a fantasized take on California’s secession. I thought that the ‘moral of the story’ was supposed to be “This is what happens when everybody becomes an extremist. Don’t do that.”
It seemed like the story had no good guys, just bad guys who disagreed with each other violently. That, to me, was kinda different, kinda refreshing.
And then I read the author’s notes, and it became pretty clear to me that the author DID intend for there to be a ‘good guy’ side and a ‘bad guy’ side. Obviously, Nazis are always bad guys regardless of who’s fighting them, but the fact that Zora is ‘fighting to liberate californian immigrants’ is about the only decent thing about her. Otherwise, she is just as willing to murder people — and to sacrifice people on her own side — to achieve her ends.
Again: this was GREAT when I thought the author intentionally made this a “bad-guy vs bad-guy” story. However, it really is starting to look like the author thinks Zora is a hero.
I think my inability to get my hands on the issue #1 might be why I was surprised by all this. From what I am hearing around the internet, Calexit #1 was VERY clear that this story is anti-Trump, and that Pizzolo legitimately believes that Trump is a fascist.
Maybe reading the author’s notes made me see the story through a different lens. Perhaps, despite Pizzolo’s political leanings, he is actually telling a story that is meant to steer people AWAY from violence and hating people who disagree with you politically.